Iran, Powers to Meet Next Week: U.S.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, shown speaking in Saudi Arabia on Saturday, said the United States and five other world powers would hold nuclear talks with Iran on April 13 and 14 (AP Photo/ Brendan Smialowski).
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, shown speaking in Saudi Arabia on Saturday, said the United States and five other world powers would hold nuclear talks with Iran on April 13 and 14 (AP Photo/ Brendan Smialowski).

The United States on Saturday said it would join five other world powers and Iran on April 13 and 14 to discuss concerns over the Middle Eastern nation's atomic activities, Reuters reported (see GSN, March 30).

The session in Istanbul, Turkey, would mark Iran's first formal meeting with the five permanent U.N. Security Council member nations and Germany since early last year (see GSN, Jan. 24, 2011). The United States and its allies suspect Iran's nuclear program is geared toward development of a weapons capability; Tehran insists its nuclear program is strictly peaceful.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's announcement verified prior statements on the timing of the planned talks (Missy Ryan, Reuters I, March 31).

"Our policy is one of prevention, not containment," Clinton added during a trip to Saudi Arabia. "It is incumbent upon Iran to demonstrate by its actions that it is a willing partner and to participate in these negotiations with an effort to obtain concrete results."

If "Iran comes to the talks prepared for serious negotiations," opportunity remains for dialogue to achieve results, Agence France-Presse quoted the top U.S. diplomat as saying.

Still, she said "there is not an open-ended opportunity for Iran" in the atomic dispute.

"It soon will be clear whether Iran's leaders are prepared to have a serious, credible discussion about their nuclear program, whether they are ready to start building the basis of a resolution to this very serious problem," Clinton said.

"It's up to Iran's leaders to make the right choice," she said. "We will see whether they will intend to do so starting with the P-5+1 negotiations in Istanbul [on] April 13 and 14," she said.

"What is certain, however, is that Iran's window to seek and obtain a peaceful resolution will not remain open forever," she said (Agence France-Presse I/Google News, March 31).

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other state delegates were during a trip to Tehran  "told that [Iranian] supreme leader (Ayatollah Ali Khamenei) viewed weapons of mass destruction as religiously prohibited, as against Islam," Clinton added on Sunday.

"We are meeting with the Iranians to discuss how to translate what is a stated belief into a plan of action," Clinton said. "It is not an abstract belief, but a government policy. That government policy can be demonstrated in a number of ways. ... The international community now wants to see actions associated with that statement of belief."

Turkey's representatives had "lengthy discussions" with Iranian personnel, said Clinton, who spoke with the Turkish prime minister (Bradley Klapper, Associated Press I/Google News, April 1).

A one-time high-level Iranian atomic envoy has said a resolution to the nuclear dispute could be achieved if  Western powers acknowledge Iran is entitled to a uranium refinement capacity, Reuters reported.

"Talks between Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany (P-5+1), scheduled for next month, provide the best opportunity to break the nine-year deadlock over Iran's nuclear program," Hossein Mousavian, now a short-term Princeton University academic, wrote in a commentary published by the Boston Globe on Saturday.

Understanding the negotiators' "bottom lines" could aid in hammering out an agreement, the former diplomat wrote.

"For Iran, this is the recognition of its legitimate right to create a nuclear program -- including enrichment -- and a backing off by the P-5+1 from its zero-enrichment position," he said.

The Security Council has adopted multiple resolutions pressing Iran to halt all uranium enrichment, a process that can produce nuclear-bomb material as well as civilian fuel. The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, though, permits Tehran and other non-nuclear weapons signatories to refine uranium for peaceful purposes.

"For the P-5+1, it is an absolute prohibition on Iran from creating a nuclear bomb, and having Iran clear up ambiguities in its nuclear program to the satisfaction of the International Atomic Energy Agency," Mousavian said. Western powers must also end rhetoric favoring the overthrow of the Iranian government and acknowledge that "crippling sanctions, covert actions and military strikes might slow down Iran's nuclear program but will not stop it," he said.

"In fact, it is too late to demand that Iran suspend enrichment activities," he added. "It mastered enrichment technology and reached breakout capability in 2002 and continues to steadily improve its uranium enrichment capabilities."

Mousavian was describing Iran's capacity to potentially exit the nonproliferation regime and assemble a nuclear bomb (Louis Charbonneau, Reuters II, March 31). The heads of U.S. intelligence agencies have said specialists have judged Iran's leaders not to have made an official decision to seek such a weapon, though the country has acted to bolster its means to acquire an atomic capability.

Following intelligence lapses over Iraq's purported WMD programs prior to the 2003 military intervention in that country, the CIA and other intelligence services have adopted assessment peer-review systems; mandated that data interpreters receive additional details on individuals and machines providing information; and ordered analyses to more thoroughly link every significant determination with the findings on which it is based, the New York Times reported on Saturday. No viable weapons of mass destruction were uncovered in Iraq following the invasion.

“For a lot of people in the intelligence community, there is a feeling that they don’t want to repeat the same mistake,” said Greg Thielmann of the Washington-based Arms Control Association. “The intelligence community as a whole has better practices now partly because of the scar tissue they still have from Iraq."

A number of independent experts said they were unaware of any higher-level pressure on the spy community to reach specific determinations on Iran.

“The intelligence was so heavily politicized on Iraq,” Ploughshares Fund head Joseph Cirincione said. “The higher up the chain in the government the intelligence reporting went, the more it got massaged, and the doubts and caveats got removed.”

More recently, “I haven’t heard any complaints about the administration pressuring the intelligence community to tilt the intelligence,” Cirincione said.

An unidentified one-time high-level intelligence insider said "the Iraq experience gave [government assessment personnel] thicker skins.”

“There was a lot of work done to tighten up the tradecraft,” the former insider added.

Acting and retired high-level U.S. government insiders, though, said significant limitations persist in their understanding of Iranian operations, and a potential move by the country to resume atomic arms efforts might initially go unnoticed. Iran halted its formal nuclear-weapon effort in 2003, the U.S. intelligence community has determined.

“Because intelligence officials are human beings, one cannot rule out the possibility of the tendency to overcompensate for past errors,” former CIA Middle East specialist Paul Pillar added (James Risen, New York Times, March 31).

Meanwhile, Iranian Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency Ali Asghar Soltanieh said his country has no obligation to routinely open its armed forces facilities to international auditors.

Discussions over possible U.N. nuclear watchdog scrutiny of Iran's Parchin base had become "politicized," the Middle Eastern nation's Fars News Agency quoted Soltanieh as saying in remarks to Fox News.

Iran last month tentatively offered to permit International Atomic Energy Agency officials to inspect the base after denying access to high-level IAEA teams that made two visits to the country this year. The U.N. nuclear watchdog in November reported indications that the Persian Gulf regional power had assembled a tank at the installation for performing explosive detonations relevant to a potential nuclear-weapon development effort (see GSN, Nov. 9, 2011).

"We cannot permit each time any country wants to knock at the door and wants to go to our military sites," Soltanieh said.

Iran "has not been pursuing a nuclear weapon," the official added. "We will never, ever suspend our activities, including enrichment."

"Sanctions have had no effect," he said. "We are more determined to pursue our nuclear activities."

Iran would respond "with an iron fist" to any use of armed force against its atomic installations, the official said, adding: "Nobody would dare attack Iran" (Fars News Agency, April 1).

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi on Monday acknowledged punitive steps against his country might have taken a toll, AFP reported.

"The sanctions may have caused us small problems but we will continue our path," Salehi told the Islamic Republic News Agency.

"We do not underestimate any enemy, no matter how tiny and lowly they are. The regime's officials -- the supreme leader, the president, the army, the [Revolutionary Guard] and Basij (militia) -- are completely vigilant. And the nation is prepared to defend the achievements of Islamic Iran," he said (Marc Burleigh, Agence France-Presse II/Google News, April 2).

President Obama on Friday said the international economy could tolerate an additional decrease in the availability of Iranian petroleum, enabling countries to further curb purchases of oil from the country, Reuters reported. His statement comes as the European Union moves toward enacting its approved embargo on Iranian oil and other governments institute cutbacks.

"The existence of strategic reserves" and boost in output by alternate suppliers could enable further punitive steps, Obama said in a determination mandated under a statute enacted in December (see GSN, Jan. 3).

"I will closely monitor this situation to assure that the market can continue to accommodate a reduction in purchases of petroleum and petroleum products from Iran," Obama added in provided remarks (Mason/Rampton, Reuters III, March 30).

Unilateral U.S. penalties would take effect on June 28 against banks in certain nations that buy Iranian unrefined petroleum, Kyodo News quoted the Obama administration as saying on Friday.

Washington would pursue discussions with China and India on potentially exempting the two nations from the punitive measures, according to one administration source (Kyodo News, March 30).

Clinton on Sunday said she "was encouraged to hear Turkey's announcement that it will significantly reduce crude oil imports from Iran," AFP reported (Agence France-Presse III/Google News, April 1).

Separately, Erdogan said potential military action by Israel against Iranian atomic sites would have "disastrous" consequences, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

"The entire region would be devastated if Israel strikes Iran," the Hurriyet Daily News quoted Erdogan as saying. The Turkish prime minister noted he had communicated his view to President Obama.

"Israel has between 250 to 300 nuclear warheads. Nobody is discussing that," Erdogan added (see related GSN story, today).

"Iran says they would not produce nuclear weapons. They are saying that they would produce a specific amount of enriched uranium rods and stop after that," he said (Xinhua News Agency, March 31).

Elsewhere, Israel has reduced "by dozens of percent" its clandestine efforts to curb Iran's nuclear progress, including efforts to gather information, enlist informants and carry out targeted killings of the nation's atomic specialists, Time magazine quoted high-level Israeli defense insiders as saying.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu "is afraid of another failure, that something will blow up in his face,” one government source said, referring to a botched attempt in the 1990s to kill a leader of the Palestinian political organization Hamas (Karl Vick, Time, March 30).

Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Hussein al-Shahristani on Sunday said his country is "working very hard" to alleviate concerns over a potential attempt by Iran to block the Strait of Hormuz, AFP reported.

Iranian lawmakers and officials have previously suggested such a move was possible in response to an embargo on the nation's oil sector. The strait is a key waterway for the transport of Middle Eastern oil (Prashant Rao, Agence France-Presse IV/Google News, April 1).

South Korea intends to maintain cooperation with Washington in an effort to cut purchases of petroleum from Iran, AP quoted South Korean government sources as saying on Saturday (Associated Press/Taipei Times, April 1).

Representative Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.) on Friday said indicated he would join Democratic and other GOP lawmakers on a trip to the Persian Gulf region this week to assess dangers posed by Iran to the United States as well as Israel and other Middle Eastern nations (U.S. Representative Patrick Meehan release, March 30).

April 2, 2012

The United States on Saturday said it would join five other world powers and Iran on April 13 and 14 to discuss concerns over the Middle Eastern nation's atomic activities, Reuters reported.