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Iran Says Prepared for New Talks With U.N. Nuclear Watchdog: Diplomats
Iran has stated in writing that it is prepared for new discussions on its nuclear program with the International Atomic Energy Agency, envoys from Western nations told Reuters on Thursday (see GSN, April 19).
The letter arrived days after talks between Iran and world powers China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States. The discussions, aimed at finding a resolution to the long-running dispute over Tehran's atomic activities, are expected to resume on May 23 in Baghdad.
Sources in the agency's home city of Vienna, Austria, said the message did not address a key IAEA demand, that Iran open up its Parchin military site for inspection. Iran in March tentatively offered to permit the agency to inspect the base after denying access to high-level IAEA teams that made two visits to the country this year. The nuclear watchdog in November reported indications that the Persian Gulf regional power had assembled a tank at the installation for performing explosive trials relevant to a potential nuclear-weapon detonation.
Iran denies conducting any nuclear operations at Parchin and says its atomic program is strictly peaceful in nature. The United States and other nations suspect the Middle Eastern state of seeking a nuclear-weapon capability.
Top IAEA officials received the letter on Tuesday from Tehran's envoy to the organization, Ali Asghar Soltanieh. The message stated that Iran is "ready to resume the negotiations," according to one Western source.
Another diplomatic official said the missive "does not offer the agency access to Parchin."
Nonetheless, agency officials might be sent to Iran again ahead of the IAEA Board of Governors meeting in June as a demonstration that discussions are being given "a chance," a third source said (Fredrik Dahl, Reuters I/Yahoo!News, April 19).
Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is said to have issued a fatwa against manufacturing, holding or employing nuclear weapons. It is widely assessed that he would have the final say on pursuing an atomic arsenal.
A 2009 IAEA document suggests Khamenei's assertions on the religious invalidity of nuclear arms should be taken with a grain of salt, the Institute for Science and International Security said on Friday.
“The agency [IAEA] was informed that in April 1984 the then president of Iran, H.E. Ayatollah Khamenei declared, during a meeting of top-echelon political and security officials at the Presidential Palace in Tehran, that the spiritual leader Imam Khomeini had decided to reactivate the nuclear program," according to the record obtained by the Washington-based think tank. "According to Ayatollah Khamenei this was the only way to secure the very essence of the Islamic Revolution from the schemes of its enemies, especially the United States and Israel, and to prepare it for the emergence of Imam Mehdi. Ayatollah Khamenei further declared during the meeting, that a nuclear arsenal would serve Iran as a deterrent in the hands of God’s soldiers.”
The U.S. intelligence community said in 2007 that Iran had halted nuclear-weapon operations several years earlier. High-level officials have said this year they do not believe Iranian leaders have made a formal decision to build a bomb.
The U.N. nuclear watchdog, though, says Tehran has failed to resolve questions about possible nuclear weapon-related operations. Data from IAEA member nations suggests that certain components of an Iranian atomic arms program persisted or resumed following 2003 and might continue today, an ISIS analysis cites the agency's November report as stating (Institute for Science and International Security release, April 20).
Washington and its partner governments have delivered new sanctions against Tehran in the wake of the most recent IAEA safeguards report on Iran's nuclear program. The European Union earlier this year approved an embargo on Iranian oil that is to be fully enacted in July.
Tehran, in turn, has cut off crude oil sales to France and the United Kingdom and this month said it also curbed exports to Greece and Spain, the Associated Press reported.
Failure to ease the EU sanctions ahead of the May talks would mean "we will surely cut oil to Europe," Oil Minister Rostam Qasemi said.
"We are hopeful that they will lift sanctions on Iran's oil," he said. "What we have officially cut is crude export to Britain and France. The oil sale to the other countries has continued" (Nasser Karimi, Associated Press/Yahoo!News, April 19).
A high-level EU source on Friday told Reuters that the 27-nation bloc could by June take another look at the cutoff in imports of Iranian unrefined petroleum. The nations had intended ahead of May to study the embargo due to its potential effect on oil prices and worries about some nations' ability to find other sources of petroleum.
"So far, Greece has come back to us saying that for the time being they seem to be able to handle the situation," according to the unidentified source.
"They asked for a possibility of coming back to this in May or maybe June," he said. "The situation in oil markets is being kept under close review and, if necessary, we will come back to this."
Leaders from Western states say Tehran must adequately address worries about its atomic work before economic penalties would be reassessed.
"The Iranians have a habit of making overtures and then not following up with them," French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said in a television interview. "We won't give ground. The Iranians have to make some gestures and if they do, then in a step by step approach, we'll see how things can evolve" (Justyna Pawlak, Reuters II, April 20).
The next round of talks is expected to involve a push to persuade Iran to give up its ongoing enrichment of uranium to 20 percent, which observers say is a key step toward production of weapon-grade nuclear material, which has an enrichment level of roughly 90 percent. Iran says it needs the material for a medical research reactor and says that uranium enrichment for peaceful purposes is its right as a member of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
"I think time works on our side," White House coordinator for arms control and weapons of mass destruction Gary Samore told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, "because at the end of June and at the beginning of July, much bigger financial and oil sanctions will kick in. At the end of June, the U.S. will impose sanctions against the Central Bank of Iran; and at the very beginning of July, the EU oil boycott of Iran will take force. So from our standpoint, time works in our favor. To the extent that the Iranian concern about sanctions is driving them to seek an agreement, the closer we get to the summer, the stronger our position becomes."
He added: "We think that it is unlikely that we will have a comprehensive solution in the near term, so the P-5+1 have focused on a so-called step-by-step approach. And our effort will be to focus on the elements of the Iranian program that are of the most concern from the standpoint of developing a nuclear weapons capacity. For example, their production of 20 percent-enriched uranium is unjustified in terms of their civil program and even the Iranians have said they have produced enough 20-percent to provide fuel for the Tehran Research Reaction. But (the 20 percent-enrichment) also represents a significant proliferation threat because the accumulation of 20 percent-enriched uranium moves Iran closer to being able to produce weapons-grade uranium. So we will try in the first instance to deal with those elements of the program which pose the greatest threat from a proliferation standpoint and then ultimately we will seek to achieve full compliance with the U.N. Security Council resolution" (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, April 17).
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