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Iran Could Halt Enrichment Upgrades Under Deal
Iran could end upgrades to its uranium enrichment capacity in exchange for the cancellation of new economic penalties under a potential deal floated last week by Russia, Tehran's top envoy to Moscow told Bloomberg on Wednesday (see GSN, April 24).
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.
The Russian plan would enable Iran, which maintains its atomic activities are strictly peaceful, to prevent implementation of a European Union ban on its crude oil that is scheduled to come into force on July 1, according to Bloomberg.
“We need to study this proposal and to establish on what basis it has been made,” Ambassador Mahmoud Reza Sajjadi said of the plan, which Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov put forward last week. Sajjadi said his country would defend its entitlement to an atomic power capability.
Iran could be open to signing the Additional Protocol to its inspections arrangement with the International Atomic Energy Agency under a more comprehensive deal, the ambassador said. The step would enable the U.N. nuclear watchdog to conduct more intrusive inspections of Iranian atomic facilities aimed at ensuring the nation's nuclear assets are not diverted for military use.
By implementing the petroleum restrictions, the European Union would communicate "that they’re not serious about resolving the nuclear issue,” he said. “How can they want to pursue nuclear talks on the one hand and introduce sanctions on the other? What meaning will these talks have then?”
Tehran joined six major governments earlier this month for a meeting in Istanbul aimed at resolving concerns over its nuclear program. Iranian diplomats are expected on May 23 in Baghdad to meet again with representatives of China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.
A major issue at the upcoming talks is expected to be Iran's enrichment of uranium to 20 percent. Tehran says it needs the material for operating a medical isotope production reactor, while 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.
The Russian plan -- described by Ryabkov as the first in a series of compromises intended to conclude with a deal to eliminate any questions over Iranian atomic ambitions -- calls for Iran to end manufacturing of new uranium enrichment equipment and not to activate machines not already in operation.
“At that stage, as part of the step-by-step approach, the other side could announce that it will refrain from introducing new sanctions,” Ryabkov said three days after Iran's April 14 meeting with the five permanent Security Council member nations and Germany (Kravchenko/Meyer, Bloomberg, April 25).
Meanwhile, the head of Israel's military on Wednesday voiced skepticism over the potential for Iran to commit to construction of atomic armaments. The heads of U.S. intelligence agencies have said this year they do not believe Iran's leaders have made an official decision to seek a nuclear weapon.
"If Iran goes nuclear it will have negative dimensions for the world, for the region, for the freedom of action Iran will permit itself," Israeli armed forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz told Haaretz.
Possession of a nuclear deterrent might encourage Tehran to bolster its backing of regional supporters such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip, Gantz said.
"There's also the potential for an existential threat," he added. "If they have a bomb, we are the only country in the world that someone calls for its destruction and also builds devices with which to bomb us."
"The more the Iranians progress the worse the situation is. This is a critical year, but not necessarily 'go, no-go.' The problem doesn't necessarily stop on Dec. 31, 2012. We're in a period when something must happen: Either Iran takes its nuclear program to a civilian footing only or the world, perhaps we too, will have to do something. We're closer to the end of the discussions than the middle," the general said.
Political and financial steps against Iran are beginning to produce their intended effect, he said. "I also expect that someone is building operational tools of some sort, just in case. The military option is the last chronologically but the first in terms of its credibility. If it's not credible it has no meaning. We are preparing for it in a credible manner. That's my job, as a military man."
"[Iran] is going step by step to the place where it will be able to decide whether to manufacture a nuclear bomb. It hasn't yet decided whether to go the extra mile."
Iran would consider its atomic assets "too vulnerable" for as long as they are susceptible to military strikes, Gantz said.
"If the supreme religious leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei wants, he will advance it to the acquisition of a nuclear bomb, but the decision must first be taken. It will happen if Khamenei judges that he is invulnerable to a response. I believe he would be making an enormous mistake, and I don't think he will want to go the extra mile. I think the Iranian leadership is composed of very rational people. But I agree that such a capability, in the hands of Islamic fundamentalists who at particular moments could make different calculations, is dangerous," he said (Amos Harel, Haaretz, April 25).
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said economic penalties "are certainly taking a bite out of the Iranian economy." Still, "they haven't rolled back the Iranian program -- or even stopped it -- by one iota," he told CNN in remarks aired on Tuesday.
"If the sanctions are going to work, they better work soon," he added (CNN, April 25).
"They have to stop all enrichment," Agence France-Presse quoted Netanyahu as saying in remarks to the television channel. The prime minister said he is unwilling to allow Iran to produce even low-enriched uranium suited for use in civilian power plants but not bombs.
"After you stop all enrichment ... you will get these (fuel) rods from another country that can allow you to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes," the Israeli leader said (Agence France-Presse/AsiaOne, April 25).
"I hope the Iranian nuclear problem won't be there next year," he told Israeli army radio on Tuesday in comments reported by the Jerusalem Post (Jerusalem Post, April 24).
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Tel Aviv "is satisfied that the sanctions will stop Iran and this year will be decisive," the Israeli website Globes reported (Lilach Weissman, Globes, April 24).
Indian Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee on Sunday said his country had achieved large cuts in purchases of petroleum from Iran, the Indo-Asian News Service (Arun Kumar, Indo-Asian News Service/Yahoo!News, April 24).
Elsewhere, a one-time high-level Iranian atomic envoy has said Tehran and major governments have a "historic opportunity" to end the nuclear standoff, Reuters reported on Wednesday.
Still, pressing Iran to halt production of 20 percent-enriched uranium would impinge on its entitlements under the global nonproliferation regime, said Hossein Mousavian, now a short-term Princeton University academic (Fredrik Dahl, Reuters, April 25).
Iran is communicating willingness to provide China with computer systems obtained from a U.S. unmanned aerial vehicle downed over its territory, Fox News reported on Monday (see GSN, April 23; Catherine Herridge, Fox News, April 23).
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