Global Security Newswire
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Iran, Powers to Convene Nuclear Meeting in Turkey
The European Union on Monday said Iran and six major governments had settled on a Turkish city to host a planned round of discussions aimed at resolving an intensifying standoff over the Middle Eastern nation’s nuclear program, Agence France-Presse reported (see GSN, April 6).
"We have agreed to launch talks in Istanbul on April 14," said Michael Mann, a spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. "We hope that this first round will produce a conducive environment for concrete progress.
"We are of course aiming at a sustained process," the official said.
The announcement followed recent reports of Iranian officials taking issue with Turkey as the meeting's host and proposing alternate sites for the gathering. Prior to those objections, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the meeting would take place in Istanbul and Iran's top diplomat appeared to endorse the city to host the event.
Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi on Monday said his government wants the five permanent U.N. Security Council member nations powers and Germany to "come to the negotiating table with honesty."
"We also will make an honest effort so that both sides reach a win-win conclusion," Salehi stated to the Iranian legislature's website.
The gathering would mark Iran's first formal meeting since early 2011 with China, Germany, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States (see GSN, Jan. 24, 2011). Washington and its allies suspect Iran's nuclear program is geared toward development of a weapons capability; Tehran insists its nuclear program is strictly peaceful, and the heads of U.S. intelligence agencies have recently said they do not believe Iran's leaders have made an official decision to seek a nuclear weapon (Agence France-Presse I/Google News, April 9).
The six powers intend to press Iran to shutter its underground Qum uranium enrichment facility, along with relinquishing its 20 percent-enriched uranium and ending manufacturing of the material, the New York Times on Saturday quoted U.S. and European envoys as saying. The higher-enriched uranium enables the nation to potentially more quickly produce nuclear-weapon fuel, which must be refined to roughly 90 percent, but Tehran insists it would only use the substance as fuel for a medical isotope production reactor (Sanger/Erlanger, New York Times I, April 7).
During a March meeting with President Obama, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stressed the need to win those the two concessions from Iran, the London Guardian reported. Eliminating the country's weapon-capable atomic infrastructure is a separate objective emphasized by France and the United Kingdom, according to the newspaper (Chris McGreal, London Guardian, April 8).
Obama administration personnel said action on Iranian higher-level uranium enrichment was their "urgent priority," and they would seek full breakdown of the Qum site at a later date, the Times reported. The facility is considered less vulnerable to a potential armed campaign than Iran's other known enrichment site at Natanz.
Iran has said it intends to ramp up generation of higher-enriched uranium over the next few months, but the approximately 220 pounds of material amassed to date is insufficient to fuel a weapon.
“We have no idea how the Iranians will react,” a high-level administration insider said. “We probably won’t know after the first meeting.”
Low-enriched uranium would be less useful to a nuclear-bomb drive, but the U.N. Security Council has adopted multiple measures pressing Iran to fully halt all uranium enrichment.
National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor on Friday said "Iran must live up to its international obligations, including full suspension of uranium enrichment as required by multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions.”
Separate officials, though, said they were willing to let Iran maintain a capacity to refine uranium.
"What we are looking for is a way to acknowledge Iran’s right to enrich, but only at levels that would give us plenty of warning if they moved toward a weapon,” said a European envoy with knowledge of government deliberations (Sanger/Erlanger, New York Times I).
A top Iranian nuclear official on Sunday dismissed the requested uranium moves as "irrational," and noted the Qum site "is built underground because of sanctions and the threats of attacks," AFP reported.
"If they do not threaten us and guarantee that no aggression will occur, then there would be no need for countries to build facilities underground. They should change their behavior and language," Iranian Atomic Energy Organization head Fereidoun Abbasi said (Agence France-Presse II/Google News, April 8).
In an apparent attempt to establish common ground with the six other negotiating states, Abbasi said Tehran was willing to generate 20 percent-enriched uranium material "just to meet its own needs" for the medical facility, the Times cited the Islamic Republic News Agency as reporting (Alan Cowell, New York Times II, April 9).
Iran might end manufacturing of the material after building up sufficient stocks for the medical site, the official added in remarks reported by the Associated Press (Nasser Karimi, Associated Press/Google News, April 9).
Salehi on Monday said "setting conditions before the meeting means drawing conclusions, which is completely meaningless and none of the parties will accept conditions set before the talks," Reuters reported.
"These issues have been raised by the media and we cannot base our judgment on those concerns reflected by media coverage," the diplomat said.
"We have our opinions and the P-5+1 have theirs but we have to find common areas," Salehi said in comments reported by the Iranian legislature's media branch (Marcus George, Reuters I, April 9).
Meanwhile, White House officials have grown more confident of U.S. capabilities to detect any Iranian nuclear-weapon construction attempt in light of data gathered in a bolstered reconnaissance effort incorporating CIA unmanned aerial vehicles; intercepts by the National Security Agency; a newly established panel of experts for assessing photographs taken from space; and a growing number of intelligence operatives, the Washington Post reported. The information collection drive has intensified since the later years of the Bush administration; it operates alongside efforts by the CIA and separate entities to physically undermine Iran's atomic operations.
“There is confidence that we would see activity indicating that a decision had been made,” said a high-level U.S. government source participating in Iran strategy exchanges among prominent insiders. “Across the board, our access has been significantly improved" (Warrick/Miller, Washington Post, April 7).
Elsewhere, a top Iranian legislator on Friday stated his nation possesses "the scientific and technological capability” to construct a nuclear bomb, though it "will never choose this path,” the Times reported (Sanger/Erlanger, New York Times I).
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