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Compromise Could Allow Iran to Continue Uranium Enrichment: Report

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, left, visits his country’s Natanz uranium enrichment complex in 2008. U.S. officials have reportedly indicated they could agree to ongoing Iranian production of low-enriched uranium as part of a potential deal aimed at resolving concerns over the country’s nuclear program (AP Photo/Iranian Presidency). Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, left, visits his country’s Natanz uranium enrichment complex in 2008. U.S. officials have reportedly indicated they could agree to ongoing Iranian production of low-enriched uranium as part of a potential deal aimed at resolving concerns over the country’s nuclear program (AP Photo/Iranian Presidency).

Obama administration insiders have said they might assent to continued Iranian production of 5 percent-enriched uranium if the Middle Eastern nation accepts audits without constraints, as well as tight International Atomic Energy Agency monitoring measures intended to ensure the nation's atomic assets are not tapped for use in weapons, the Los Angeles Times reported on Friday (see GSN, Apr. 27).

The U.N. Security Council has adopted four sanctions resolutions aimed at pressuring Tehran to halt its uranium enrichment program, an effort Washington and other Western capitals believe is geared toward establishment of an Iranian nuclear-weapon capability. The United States and other governments have imposed a host of unilateral sanctions to similar ends.

Tehran, which insists its atomic efforts are intended solely for energy production and other nonmilitary ends, more than two years ago began generating limited quantities of 20 percent-enriched uranium. The United States and other nations worry the operation is a key step toward production of weapon-grade material, which requires an enrichment level of roughly 90 percent, while Tehran says it needs the uranium for operating a medical isotope production reactor.

The potential for Iran to obtain sufficient expertise to eventually assemble an atomic armament has made potential acceptance of any Iranian enrichment activity a topic of intense debate among U.S. officials and Washington's partners. Still, the improbability of a comprehensive end to Iranian enrichment under any compromise has been a matter of increasing agreement among the United States and other governments, which believe continued calls for the concession might eliminate any possibility of peacefully resolving the nuclear standoff.

Iranian diplomats on April 14 joined representatives from six major governments for discussions aimed at resolving concerns over the Middle Eastern nation's nuclear program. Iran is expected to meet again with world powers China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States on May 23 in Baghdad.

Top Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney as well as certain U.S. lawmakers and Israeli government figures are probable challengers of the possible new negotiating stance, according to the Times (Paul Richter, Los Angeles Times I, April 27).

Iranian insiders responded cautiously to word of the potential new position, but they added it could serve as a basis for additional discussions, the newspaper reported on Saturday.

The proposal "would be a good start" if it received backing from the U.N. nuclear watchdog and all six negotiating powers, an Iranian Foreign Ministry source said.

"One thing I can tell you for sure is that Iran will never, ever close down" the Qum uranium enrichment facility, the source added. Ending operations at the subterranean complex was a goal of the five permanent Security Council member nations and Germany, according to earlier reporting (see GSN, April 9).

"But other issues such as 20 percent enrichment is open to negotiation. I can say Obama's proposal is good provided it is unanimously echoed," the insider said. The U.S. delegate to this month's discussions behaved more decorously than his French counterpart, the source added, suggesting the varying tones adopted by the six powers foreshadow hurdles in efforts reach agree on a bargaining stance (Ramin Mostaghim, Los Angeles Times II, April 29).

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi on Sunday said this month's discussions "were a success and we hope that the Baghdad meeting also will be a success, and if we took one step forward in Istanbul surely, with God's help, we will take several steps ahead in Baghdad," Agence France-Presse reported.

"We were at the beginning of the end regarding (Iran's) nuclear issue in [Turkey], and we hope in a not-so-far future we will witness the closure of this manufactured dossier," the Iranian Students' News Agency quoted Salehi as saying (Agence France-Presse I/Google News, April 29).

The upcoming meeting has little chance of eliminating all points of dispute, Gholam-Ali Hadad-Adel, a high-level counselor to Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said on Monday.

"Iran expects the P-5+1 group to put an end to the illogical sanctions in Baghdad, because the inefficiency of sanctions is proven even for Western leaders," he said, referring to the five permanent U.N. Security Council members plus Germany.

"They can show their goodwill through a trust-building effort by" eliminating the penalties, he added in an AFP report.

"Although one should not expect for all issues to be resolved in Baghdad, we can assume the (atmosphere) of the talks will follow in the footsteps of Istanbul," Hadad-Adel said (Agence France-Presse II/Google News, April 30).

An armed confrontation over Iran's atomic efforts appears less probable than in past months, the New York Times on Monday quoted U.S. government insiders and independent observers as saying. The commentators referred to the resumption in multilateral talks, as well as more accommodating Iranian discussion tactics responding to the possibility of harsher punitive financial measures.

The Obama administration is seemingly committed to averting any clash with potential of destabilizing the global petroleum trade during the political campaign season, and members of the Israeli government have displayed increasing disagreement over on the advisability of launching a strike on Iran, according to the Times.

“I do think the temperature has cooled,” one Obama administration insider said within the last two days.

Former administration adviser Dennis Ross said “while there isn’t an agreement between the U.S. and Israel on how much time, there is an agreement that there is some time to give diplomacy a chance.”

"Right now you have a focus on the negotiations,” Ross said. “It doesn’t mean the threat of using force goes away, but it lies behind the diplomacy.”

An administration source added: “There is a combination of factors coming on line, including the talks and the sanctions, and so now I think people realize it has to be given time to play out.

"We are in a period now where the combination of diplomacy and pressure is giving us a window,” the source said (James Risen, New York Times, April 30).

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast on Friday said his country now "has the greatest defense capability in its history," AFP reported.

"This is why our adversary completely understands that should it attack our country, it will itself become the subject of a great tragedy," the official said. "This is why the possibility of war is very, very weak" (Agence France-Presse III/Daily Star, April 27).

Separately, the U.N. nuclear watchdog on Saturday announced plans to restart consultations with Iran on May 14 and 15, Reuters reported. The organization's most recent high-level mission to the Persian Gulf regional power achieved little progress in addressing questions over the nation's atomic ambitions (see GSN, Feb. 22).

"We hope that this will be a very constructive and successful meeting," Iranian Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency Ali Asghar Soltanieh told Reuters on Monday.

"The main purpose is to negotiate on a modality and framework to resolve outstanding issues and remove ambiguities," Soltanieh said. He hinted his government could require such a "framework" before weighing a possible trip by IAEA officials to a military installation suspected to have been involved in nuclear-bomb development activities (see GSN, March 14).

"Every action will be implemented based on this framework, afterward," the diplomat said.

Soltanieh added his government would "never stop enrichment activities in Iran," but he refused to discuss requests by Western powers for an end to the country's production of 20 percent-enriched uranium (Fredrik Dahl, Reuters I, April 30).

Israel's leadership has overstated the probable success of an armed offensive against Iran, a former Israeli intelligence chief said on Friday in comments reported by the Associated Press. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak in past months have referred frequently to the potential for a strike on the country.

"I don't have faith in the current leadership of Israel to lead us to an event of this magnitude, of war with Iran," one-time General Security Service head Yuval Diskin said.

"I do not believe in a leadership that makes decisions based on messianic feelings," Diskin said. "I have seen them up close. They are not messiahs, these two, and they are not the people that I personally trust to lead Israel into such an event."

"One of the results of an Israel attack on Iran could be a dramatic acceleration of the Iran program," the former official suggested. "They will have legitimacy to do it more quickly and in a shorter time frame."

Diskin's statements were "irresponsible," according to Netanyahu's representation.

Barak's agency charged the former intelligence chief with "acting in a petty and irresponsible way based on personal frustration," and with "damaging the tradition of generations of [General Security Service] leaders."

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman added: "If you do not trust the prime minister and not the defense minister, you should have resigned and not waited for the end of your term" in 2011 (Dan Perry, Associated Press I/Google News, April 29).

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Sunday said no need exists for an immediate attack on Iran.

“There is no reason at this time not to talk about a military effort,” Olmert told Israeli television, “but definitely not to initiate an Israeli military strike” (Associated Press II/Washington Post, April 29).

Meanwhile, China might insure vessels to allow it to continue receiving shipments of Iranian unrefined petroleum following the scheduled implementation of an EU embargo on the material in July, Reuters reported (Alison Leung, Reuters II, April 30).

Russia's top diplomat on Friday said additional economic penalties would not prove effective in pushing Iran to satisfy IAEA requests, Interfax reported.

"The U.N. Security Council resolution, which was passed in 2010, has exhausted all possible measures of pressure on the people and organizations, which are involved in the nuclear program in one way or another. Any additional sanctions would in effect be aimed at stifling the economy," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Rossiya-24 television.

"This aim cannot be achieved with sanctions because Iran is a sovereign state, Iran has its pride, they have their own traditions, mentality, and the Iranian nuclear program is still a national idea," Lavrov said. "Within Iran, there are, of course, political controversies among conservatives, reformers, as they refer to themselves, but they have no differences on the Iranian nuclear program. They all believe that Iran has the absolute right to possess nuclear technologies as a source of energy, and that is so, it is reflected in the [Nuclear] Nonproliferation Treaty, in all IAEA resolutions. The country has the right to enrich uranium, though only for the purpose of fuel production" (Interfax, April 27).

"The European Union is rejecting purchases of Iranian oil, even though very many EU countries depend on this oil," Reuters quoted him as saying. "One can say, of course, that the deficit will be covered, but (some) refineries are geared specifically to Iranian oil ... and readjusting them will demand substantial investments that the EU can hardly afford now."

"The unilateral sanctions to which our Western partners resort, bypassing the Security Council, only strengthen ... those in Iran who are sure the West is not interested in resolving issues linked with nonproliferation of nuclear technologies, but is interested in regime change," he said (Steve Gutterman, Reuters III, April 27).

Economic penalties targeting Iranian banks violate "the [International Monetary Fund] Charter, which demands that all of IMF member states ensure uninterrupted bank services to trade and economic contacts,” Lavrov said in remarks reported by ITAR-Tass (ITAR-Tass, April 27).

India and China are still significant customers for Iranian petroleum, Iran's Petroenergy Information Network quoted Mohsen Qamsari, head of foreign operations for National Iranian Oil, as saying on Saturday (Petroenergy Information Network, April 28).

U.S. economic penalties would not influence Indian purchases of petroleum from Iran, Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna said in comments reported on Friday by Iran's Press TV (Press TV II, April 27).

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