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Iran Signals Less Flexibility in Nuclear Standoff

Senior Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, right, shakes hands with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as they begin a meeting in Tehran on Wednesday. Jalili appeared in remarks on Wednesday to signal a decrease in his country’s willingness to adjust its policies in an effort to resolve international concerns over its nuclear program, according to a news report (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi). Senior Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, right, shakes hands with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as they begin a meeting in Tehran on Wednesday. Jalili appeared in remarks on Wednesday to signal a decrease in his country’s willingness to adjust its policies in an effort to resolve international concerns over its nuclear program, according to a news report (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi).

A Wednesday address by Iran's senior atomic envoy points to a diminished likelihood that multilateral discussions scheduled for next week would yield any agreement to ease a longstanding dispute over Iranian nuclear efforts, the Wall Street Journal reported (see GSN, June 13).

Diplomats from Tehran are scheduled meet in Moscow on June 18 and 19 with counterparts from China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States in an effort to resolve suspicions that Iran's nuclear program is geared toward establishment of a weapons capability. Tehran insists its nuclear ambitions are strictly peaceful.

In recounting developments in Iran's atomic engagement with other governments since 2011, diplomat Saeed Jalili appeared to signal a decrease in the government's willingness to adjust its atomic policies, according to the Journal.

Iran recently warned it could withdraw from the dialogue if it solely addressed atomic concerns, Jalili said (Farnaz Fassihi, Wall Street Journal, June 13).

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton has "agreed that Iran's five-point proposal is on the agenda for the Moscow discussions, even non-nuclear issues," the Associated Press quoted Jalili as saying to Iranian lawmakers. "We will enter into the Moscow talks on this basis."

At a gathering of the powers last month in Baghdad, the five permanent U.N. Security Council member nations and Germany offered medical reactor fuel and access to nonmilitary air transit equipment in hopes of persuading Iran to end manufacturing of 20 percent-enriched uranium and halt operations at its Qum enrichment plant. The higher-level uranium enrichment is ostensibly intended to fuel a medical reactor, but Washington and other governments fear the ongoing operation could enable faster production of weapon-grade material with an enrichment level of roughly 90 percent.

"Under NPT (Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty), uranium enrichment is a definite right of the Islamic Republic of Iran and any other NPT member. There is no prohibition under NPT over any kind of enrichment for peaceful purposes," Jalili said.

"It's possible that we may need higher or lower enrichment for other peaceful applications. This is our right, and we must be able to exercise this right," the diplomat added (Ali Akbar Dareini, Associated Press I/Yahoo!News, June 13).

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Wednesday said "there are not many grounds for optimism for any real movement in Moscow," the London Telegraph reported (Damien McElroy, London Telegraph, June 14).

The nuclear dialogue with Iran faces imminent breakdown, according to certain EU envoys. Others, though, said discussions would probably continue over a significant duration, the Journal reported.

"It's not about a breakthrough or no breakthrough, it's about the level of serious engagement which will lead eventually to a breakthrough," one high-level envoy said. "We are very much determined to pursue this process as long as there is momentum to pursue it and as long as there is commitment (from Iran) to pursue the nuclear issue in substance" (Fassihi, Wall Street Journal).

"If there isn't a reasonable prospect of meaningful progress from the next meeting we won't fix a next meeting," the Press Association quoted a Western international relations official as saying.

An envoy added: "The pressure that is being applied to Iran is arguably higher than it has ever been, whether that's political pressure or whether it's economic pressure from various sanctions and regimes."

"The pressure is going to intensify on Iran until it starts changing its behavior and I think that is very clear," the insider said. "All six [negotiating powers] are realistic about how likely any movement is. We would like to be surprised. But recent assessments have been fairly downbeat" (Press Association, June 13).

Iran might undercut the atomic dialogue following what appears to be a U.S. move to exclude the Persian Gulf regional power from a group of nations seeking to address instability in Syria, al-Monitor reported on Wednesday (Barbara Slavin, al-Monitor, June 13).

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi and his British equivalent William Hague addressed the multilateral atomic discussions during an encounter on Thursday, Reuters reported (George/Coles, Reuters I, June 14).

Meanwhile, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell sidestepped an inquiry over potential U.S. action to exclude China from financial penalties due to take effect later this month against state purchasers of Iranian petroleum, Agence France-Presse reported on Wednesday.

Washington and Beijing are "right in the middle of talks" on the Middle Eastern nation, Campbell said. "We have underscored how important it is to have a solid, unified international consensus about how to deal with the challenges posed by Iran's nuclear program,"

"I must say we have thanked China for their support within the P-5+1 and we will continue close consultations with them going forward," he said (Agence France-Presse I/Google News, June 13).

Beijing stood by its petroleum trade with Tehran, Iran's Moj News Agency reported on Wednesday.

“China imports oil from Iran through normal channels, which are transparent and do not violate U.N. resolutions and do not hurt other countries' interests,” Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Liu Weimin said (Moj News Agency, June 13).

New South Korean restrictions on sales to Iran seek to lessen the danger of an Iranian failure to pay for the goods as economic penalties complicate money transfers involving the nation, Reuters reported (Meeyoung Cho, Reuters II, June 14).

Israel backs steps by President Obama to address the "immediate threat" from Iranian atomic operations, AFP quoted Israeli President Shimon Peres as saying on Wednesday in comments to the U.S. leader.

"The Iranian people are not our enemies, it is the present leadership that became a threat. It turned Iran into a danger to world peace," Peres said after accepting the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Obama in a ceremony.

"It is a leadership that aims to rule the Middle East, spreading terror ... they are trying to build a nuclear bomb," the Israeli president said. "They bring darkness to a world longing for light."

"The Iranian threat must be stopped," he said. "Clearly, we support you and your cause" (Agence France-Presse II/News24, June 14).

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are "very serious" in hinting at a potential attack against Iran, former Israeli intelligence chief Meir Dagan told the Atlantic earlier in June (Jeffrey Goldberg, The Atlantic, June 13).

Authorities in Iran have purportedly taken into custody a number of individuals thought to have ties to targeted killings of Iranian atomic scientists, AP reported on Thursday (Associated Press II/Fox News, June 14).

The suspects are connected to the fatal bomb strikes against Iranian Atomic Energy Organization physicist Majid Shahriari in 2010 and Natanz uranium enrichment plant deputy Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan in January, Reuters reported.

"The key perpetrators of the assassinations ... were identified and, in a series of rapid and authoritative operations, were arrested and transferred to detention facilities," according to the Iranian Intelligence Ministry.

A number of attacks since 2010 have killed no fewer than four atomic researchers and wounded another, current Atomic Energy Organization chief Fereidoun Abbasi Davani.

Iran has blamed Israel and the United States for the deaths, a claim rejected by Washington and met with silence from Tel Aviv (Marcus George, Reuters III/Yahoo!News, June 14).

Separately, World Bank Chairman Robert Zoellick has called for Brazil to halt domestic uranium refinement and encourage the same step by other non-nuclear weapons states, U.S. News and World Report reported on Wednesday. Zoellick recommended offering the South American nation Security Council membership for such a move, which would seek to undermine Iran's justification for pursuing a uranium enrichment capacity (John Bennett, U.S. News and World Report, June 13).

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