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Iran Seen Eliminating Buildings at Suspect Military Site
Pictures shot from orbit on Friday indicate Iran "razed" two structures at its Parchin armed forces installation since early last month, bolstering fears of a possible effort to "destroy evidence" of experimentation applicable to a potential nuclear-bomb preparation effort, a think tank in Washington said on Wednesday (see GSN, May 30).
Iran has turned down multiple requests by the International Atomic Energy Agency for a trip to Parchin, where the U.N. nuclear watchdog believes the govenment might have assembled a tank for performing nuclear weapon-usable combustion studies, Reuters reported (see GSN, Nov. 9, 2011). Tehran insists its atomic ambitions are strictly nonmilitary in nature.
The pictures show imprints "made by heavy machinery used in the demolition process," according to the analysis by the Institute for Science and International Security. "The newest image raises concerns that Iran is attempting to raze the site prior to allowing an IAEA visit. The razing of the two buildings may also indicate that Iran has no intention to allow inspectors access soon."
Shortly before the ISIS assessment's release, the Vienna, Austria-based nuclear agency presented what were apparently comparable pictures (Fredrik Dahl, Reuters I, May 31). Agency safeguards chief Herman Nackaerts displayed to envoys pictures taken from space of the Iranian installation in May as well as last November, according to attendees.
International relations officials said a picture shot near the end of this month shows the elimination of two or potentially three limited-size structures adjacent to the primary site on which IAEA inquiries have focused.
"It was like a demolition area," a Western envoy stated.
Envoys said Nackaerts reaffirmed the necessity for an IAEA trip to the complex aimed at resolving related questions, but he did not suggest what activities were under way at the site (Fredrik Dahl, Reuters II, May 31).
Iran and six major governments appear unlikely to achieve significant headway in resolving concerns over Tehran's atomic activities at a meeting scheduled for next month in Moscow, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Wednesday. The June 18-19 discussion -- expected to include Iranian diplomats and representatives of China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States -- would follow a gathering last week in Baghdad as well as an April session in Istanbul, Turkey.
"We are not fools. We are not expecting miracles at the next meeting," Reuters quoted Ahmadinejad as telling France 24. "There will be areas of work that will go in the right direction and we will work towards them so that we reach a constructive accord."
The leader said his country had "good proposals," but would only put them forward at an appropriate moment. Participants in the exchange must cooperate to rebuild trust, he added (John Irish, Reuters III, May 30).
Uranium enrichment "is one of our rights in terms of international law," Agence France-Presse quoted him as saying.
"There have been lies about our program. ... Enriching uranium to 20 percent is not a step towards a bomb," Ahmadinejad said. Tehran has been generating 20 percent-enriched uranium for the stated purpose of operating a medical reactor, but Washington and other capitals fear the material could facilitate generation of weapon-grade material, which requires an enrichment level of roughly 90 percent.
The International Atomic Energy Agency should force major governments to "provide us with uranium at a 20 percent enrichment level, but so far they have not done so," he said. In response, Iran has "decided to move forward on our own" in producing such material, he said.
"If others do not wish for us to fully benefit from this right, they need to explain to us why. And also they have to say what they are willing to give to the Iranian people in exchange," the Iranian president stated. "Why should the 20 percent enrichment create doubt? The Western powers have nuclear bombs. Should we trust them? Which is more dangerous: an atomic bomb or the 20 percent (enrichment)?"
Washington and Tel Aviv have expressed readiness to address the nuclear dispute through armed force if it goes unresolved.
"Why does no one in the Western governments protest when they (Israel) threaten us?" Ahmadinejad asked. "We are not afraid of their threats. The Iranian people have shown they know how to deal with such situations" (Agence France-Presse I/Spacedaily.com, May 30).
U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro on Wednesday said "significant differences" were clear at last week's meeting, but participants would seek next month to work from a "narrow common ground" also evident at the previous discussion, AFP reported.
"As we apply all elements of American power to prevent a nuclear Iran, the United States takes no option off the table -- that means a political component, a diplomatic component, an economic component and a military option," Shapiro stated (Jonah Mandel, Agence France-Presse II/Yahoo!News, May 30).
Israeli Vice Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon on Wednesday said Iran has "managed to enrich [1,653 pounds] of uranium enriched to 3.5 percent, and [79 pounds] of uranium to 20 percent" while engaged in multilateral diplomacy, Haaretz reported.
"Iran, regardless of pressure, is in the meantime laughing all the way to a bomb," Yaalon said.
Iran has not signaled feeling "threatened, despite economic hardships. It has yet to bring the regime to the dilemma of a bomb or survival. They're not there," he said. "The problem is that leaders in Tehran aren't convinced that the West is determined to go all the way, whether through sanctions or military action, since that would influence oil prices" (Amos Harel, Haaretz, May 30).
Ali Akbar Velayati, a lead counselor to Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, on Wednesday played down the potential for an Israeli strike on his country, Iran's Fars News Agency reported.
"The Zionist regime has neither the power nor the courage and venture to do so for it knows that if it embarks on doing such a thing, it won't exist any more," Velayati said (Fars News Agency I, May 30).
Yaalon said the "working assumption in Iran is that nothing will happen in 2012, since it's an elections [year] in the United States, since they know the West. As far as they're concerned, there's no 'green light' for an Israeli strike, so they're not coming to these talks with a sense of urgency," Haaretz reported.
"Our position is clear. As far as we're concerned, they need to forgo all enrichment, remove all enriched material and close (the nuclear facility) in Qum," Yaalon said.
"I wish we could see more sanctions that could break the regime, but the concern is a real one. There's no doubt that the international cooperation leaves a chance to bring the regime to a dilemma, but as of now there's no sign that the Iranian regime understands that he's faced with a determined system ready to confront him," he said.
It is appropriate to prepare for a possible strike on Iran, but an actual attack should only take place as a final resort, one-time top Israeli army officer Gabi Ashkenazi and former Israeli intelligence leaders Amos Yadlin and Meir Dagan indicated in comments on Wednesday.
Tel Aviv should ensure other nations are "ready to mobilize to continue barring Iran" from obtaining an atomic arsenal in the aftermath of an armed offensive, as such force would mark the beginning of a longer-term campaign, Yadlin said in describing an analysis by the Institute for National Strategic Studies.
Dagan added: "If we attack today, not only will we not delay the Iranian bomb, but we'll solve all the regime's domestic problems" (Harel, Haaretz).
Israel has failed to adequately consider a strike's repercussions, which would probably be significant, the Jerusalem Post quoted Dagan as saying (Jerusalem Post, May 30). Yadlin, though, said certain predictions have overstated consequences that an Iranian retaliation would create within Israeli borders, Haaretz reported (Harel, Haaretz).
Meanwhile, a South Korean Foreign Ministry insider on Wednesday said the United States would exempt Seoul from penalties targeting state purchasers of Iranian petroleum, the Korea Times reported
“Washington is likely to announce Korea’s waiver from U.S. sanctions on Iran within this week,” the source said. “Washington has already agreed to Korea’s request for an exemption” (Chung Min-uck, Korea Times, May 30).
The Russian Foreign Ministry on Tuesday said the possible application of U.S. penalties against Russian firms over dealings with Iran could have "severe repercussions" for ties between Moscow and Washington, Fars News reported (Fars News Agency II, May 30).
The Russian state-run atomic energy firm Rosatom on Tuesday indicated it was prepared to aid in a potential expansion of Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant, ITAR-Tass reported.
“If it is not banned and if it is profitable, if the project is developed we are ready,” Rosatom deputy chief Nikolai Spassky said.
“The U.N. Security Council permitted this issue in sanction resolutions," Spassky added. "Preliminary consultations continue on this issue” (ITAR-Tass, May 29).
Note to our Readers
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