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Iran, Powers Convene Technical Meeting on Nuclear Standoff

An Iranian medical research reactor in Tehran. Iran could require a potential deal on its refinement of uranium to provide higher-enriched fuel for "at least four other research reactors" in addition to the Tehran site, Iranian diplomats suggested to representatives of six world powers last month (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi). An Iranian medical research reactor in Tehran. Iran could require a potential deal on its refinement of uranium to provide higher-enriched fuel for "at least four other research reactors" in addition to the Tehran site, Iranian diplomats suggested to representatives of six world powers last month (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi).

Iran and six major governments on Tuesday convened a new discussion with the stated aim of considering whether scientific confusion is partly to blame for an ongoing impasse over Tehran's disputed atomic activities, the London Guardian reported (see GSN, July 2).

The exchange in Istanbul, Turkey, followed three meetings convened this year between higher-ranking representatives of Iran and counterparts from China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States. Washington and its allies fear Iran's nuclear efforts are geared toward establishment of a weapons capability; Iran insists its atomic ambitions are strictly peaceful.

"The experts are there today to explain our position and respond to Iranian questions on a technical level," one European envoy stated.

The five permanent U.N. Security Council member nations and Germany separately dispatched high-level international relations officials to assess any alteration in Tehran's stance following the implementation of a European Union ban on Iranian petroleum at the start of this month (Julian Borger, London Guardian, July 3). Nuclear physics experts, but no diplomats, were to take part in the exchange, a European insider told Agence France-Presse (Agence France-Presse I/EUbusiness, July 3).

The Tuesday session would precede any dialogue between Iranian Supreme National Security Council Undersecretary Ali Bagheri and Helga Schmid, a delegate for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, Iran's Fars News Agency reported. Ashton would then join further discussions with senior Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, according to Fars News (Fars News Agency, July 3).

The atomic position staked out by Tehran at a June multilateral gathering in Moscow would provide an unlikely basis for compromise, according to the Washington Post.

The statement includes a proposal for the nation to "cooperate with [P-5+1] to provide enriched fuel" for a medical research reactor in Tehran; Iranian insiders said the language could pave the way for a halt to their nation's production of 20 percent-refined uranium, which Washington and allied governments fear might enable faster preparation of weapon-grade material with an enrichment level of roughly 90 percent.

Still, Iran also indicated it could require 20 percent-enriched material for "at least four other research reactors" as well as transfers "to other countries." Tehran might have included the demand in an effort to gain leverage in negotiations, but the wording could bode poorly for diplomatic prospects, according to the Post (David Ignatius, Washington Post, July 2).

In an apparent response to Iranian naval steps described in June toward assembling atomic submarines, the Iranian legislature has called for the preparation of sea vessels "not reliant on fossil fuels," the Guardian reported (see GSN, June 13). Atomic material for powering such systems has enrichment levels ranging between 20 percent and 90 percent; Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad could soon unveil plans to refine uranium to an intermediate point within that range, according to unverified sources in Tehran (Borger, London Guardian).

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi on Monday said Tehran hopes "to see a win-win outcome" in the multilateral atomic discussions, the Associated Press reported.

"In the talks, the other side has no choice but to find an agreement, otherwise confrontation will be the alternative. I don't think that common sense is looking for a confrontation," Salehi said. "We are looking for a deal and not a confrontation, but if they (world powers) want to react unwisely, they should know that Iran will firmly defend its rights as it did during the Iran-Iraq war" (Associated Press/Boston Globe, July 2).

Failure by the six negotiating nations to acknowledge Iran's atomic "rights" and engage with Tehran on equitable terms could result in an "impasse," AFP quoted Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast as saying on Tuesday.

"Many people are starting to conclude that maybe there are specific goals in dragging out the talks and preventing their success. One option is that perhaps there is a link with the U.S. (presidential) election," Mehmanparast added (Agence France-Presse II/Yahoo!News, July 3).

Meanwhile, a picture taken from space on June 21 indicates additional efforts possibly aimed at concealing incriminating evidence at Iran's Parchin armed forces installation, according to a Monday analysis by the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington.

The International Atomic Energy Agency suspects the Parchin site to have housed a tank for performing nuclear weapon-usable combustion studies. On multiple occasions this year, the U.N. nuclear watchdog sought access to the installation without success.

"Debris from one of the previously demolished buildings located just north of the explosives testing building appears to have been removed from the site" since June 7, when a satellite captured an earlier picture, the organization stated. "The layout of the site has been heavily altered by earth displacement, and there is no remaining trace of one of the previously demolished buildings or the roads within the complex perimeter."

"An object that was previously placed near the alleged explosive chamber building and was suspected to be the origin of the water flow in the June 7 satellite imagery has now been moved to a nearby building just south of the testing chamber structure. Once again, traces of water flow are visible. This suggests the object may be a water tank and is being moved around the site, possibly to clean the buildings," the analysis states.

"The area around the northernmost building on the site that was previously unchanged now shows evidence of new earth movement since the June 7 image. A clearly visible geometrical layout to the right of the building is no longer recognizable suggesting earth displacement or heavy machinery activity," the authors wrote.

Certain observers have suggested experiments a build a nuclear-weapon "neutron initiator" would produce detectable markings on the detonation tank, according to the report (see GSN, March 8).

"However, in such a neutron initiator test, the number of neutrons is very small and many of the activated materials would have had relatively short half-lives," it says. "Although long lived radionuclides should have been produced in such a test, they would exist in very small quantities.  Claims that such radioactive materials would be easily detectable today appear doubtful" (Institute for Science and International Security release, July 2).

Elsewhere, Iranian lawmakers have introduced legislation intended to bar vessels from carrying petroleum to Europe through the Strait of Hormuz, AFP reported.

"This project is a response to the oil sanctions imposed by the European Union on the Islamic republic," Ebrahim Agha Mohammadi, a lawmaker on the legislature's foreign affairs panel, said to Iran's Mehr News Agency.

"In line with this draft law, the government has the right to stop the transit of tankers (through Hormuz) carrying oil to countries which have imposed oil sanctions on Iran," Mohammadi said, adding lawmakers would receive a request to endorse the bill and deem it a "priority."

Officials and lawmakers in Iran, though, have previously said their nation did not plan to follow through on suggestions of blocking the strait (Agence France-Presse III/Times of India, July 3).

Washington has added to its armed forces deployed in the region in a step to discourage any effort to close the waterway, the New York Times reported on Tuesday. The U.S. move is also aimed at bolstering the nation's readiness to carry out potential airstrikes in Iran over the atomic standoff.

“The message to Iran is, ‘Don’t even think about it,’" a high-level Defense Department insider stated. “Don’t even think about closing the strait. We’ll clear the mines. Don’t even think about sending your fast boats out to harass our vessels or commercial shipping. We’ll put them on the bottom of the gulf” (Shanker/Schmitt, New York Times, July 3).

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