Iranian Atomic Offer Could Divide Negotiators

A potential move by Iran toward compromise in upcoming discussions over its atomic program could create a months-long rift between six major governments in talks with the Persian Gulf state, experts said in comments reported by Reuters on Wednesday (see GSN, May 15).

Diplomats from Iran are scheduled on May 23 to meet in Baghdad with representatives of China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States in an effort to resolve international concerns that Tehran's atomic activities are geared toward establishment of a nuclear-weapon capability. Iran has maintained its nuclear efforts are aimed strictly toward civilian ends. The gathering would follow an April session in Istanbul, Turkey.

Iranian government insiders and independent experts have suggested Tehran could use the meeting to float potential conciliatory measures in advance of a pending round of new economic penalties against the Persian Gulf state. Still, the standoff could linger in its present state amid disagreement between governments over how to respond to such compromise gestures.

"No doubt" exists over Iran's intention to divide the six other nations at the planned meeting, former Obama administration adviser Dennis Ross said.

"I also have no doubt that they probably will put something on the table that they think will be attractive to some of the members of the P-5+1," Ross added, referring to the five permanent U.N. Security Council member nations and Germany.

Tehran, for example, might suggest it could end manufacturing of 20 percent refined uranium, Ross said. The Middle Eastern government says it needs the material for operating a medical isotope production site, but Washington and other capitals worry the operation is a step toward production of weapon-grade material, which requires an enrichment level of roughly 90 percent.

Any call by Iran for curbs on economic penalties in exchange for its own moves "will present an early test of P-5+1 unity," former U.S. State Department analyst Mark Fitzpatrick said.

"For the West, any lifting of sanctions would require significant limitations on the enrichment program," according to the expert. The United States and European nations have pressed Iran to end uranium enrichment -- a process capable of generating both civilian fuel and weapon material -- and the U.N. Security Council has adopted four sanctions resolutions to the same end.

Another issue specialist anticipated a U.S. demand for the closure of Iran's underground Qum enrichment site, which is less vulnerable to a potential aerial offensive than the nation's other atomic facilities.

"The Russians and Chinese may recognize that this is unlikely, and may accept Iranian offers short of this," said Shashank Joshi, an analyst with the Royal United Services Institute. "So we should expect to see Iran attempt to split the Russians and Chinese from the others by offering something concrete and significant, but short of dismantlement" (Maclean/Dahl, Reuters I, May 16).

Any bid by Tehran to reach a deal with the six world powers could destabilize the ruling Iranian leadership, which has based its legitimacy on a capability to withstand Western punitive measures and retain the nation's entitlement under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to a peaceful uranium refinement capacity, the Associated Press said on Wednesday.

"Insisting on a halt to enrichment is a deal breaker," Behrooz Shojaei, an expert in the Iranian capital. "It is Iran's red line" (Dareini/Murphy, Associated Press/Time, May 16).

Iran's atomic activities were the subject of a recent discussion between U.S. State Department special adviser for nonproliferation and arms control Robert Einhorn and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, ITAR-Tass quoted the Russian Foreign Ministry as stating on Tuesday (ITAR-Tass, May 16).

It remains unclear whether Iran is set to float any substantive nuclear proposals, according to Western envoys who tracked the nation's discussion with the International Atomic Energy Agency on Monday and Tuesday.

"It is too early to say whether progress was made. There are apparently some serious sticking points," one such official told Reuters. "The onus remains on Iran to address the agency's -- and international community's -- concerns about its nuclear program."

The U.N. nuclear watchdog has sought access to Iran's Parchin armed forces facility, but neither side in this week's exchange indicated if participants addressed the issue. The agency in November reported indications that the Persian Gulf power had assembled a tank at the base for performing detonations relevant to a potential nuclear-weapon development effort, and Tehran refused to open Parchin to the organization in two rounds of discussions with high-level IAEA teams earlier this year. (see GSN, May 9; Fredrik Dahl, Reuters II/The Star, May 16).

Yukiya Amano, IAEA director general, recently said the Parchin matter "has become like a symbol," the Christian Science Monitor reported. "We'll pursue this objective until there's a concrete result. ... We don't see the reason why they cannot grant us access to Parchin" (Scott Peterson, Christian Science Monitor, May 15).

Iranian Lawmaker Alaeddin Boroujerdi said Tehran could bolster assistance for the the Vienna, Austria-based nuclear agency, but the U.N. organization should not anticipate receiving cooperation not required by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty or by IAEA agreements.

Iran has met its atomic commitments, added Boroujerdi, head of the Iranian legislature's national security committee.

"Iran's general policy as a member of the IAEA is to respect the agency's regulations and (Tehran's obligations under) the NPT," the nation's Fars News Agency quoted the legislator as saying (Fars News Agency, May 15).

Arrangements hammered out during last month's discussion in Istanbul would form the foundation for next week's meeting in Baghdad, Boroujerdi on Monday said in comments reported by Iran's Press TV.

“Anything outside this framework will not be accepted by Iran,” he said (Press TV I, May 15).

The United Kingdom on Monday said further punitive action against Iran is possible, Press TV reported.

"Now we wait to see some concrete steps and proposals from Iran," British Foreign Secretary William Hague told a meeting of top European Union diplomats. "Without that, of course we have sanctions we have imposed. They will not only be enforced but, over time, intensified," he said.

An EU ban on Iranian oil imports is due to take full effect on July 1 (Press TV II, May 15).

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov on Monday said further "U.N. Security Council sanctions over Iran would be contradictory," RIA Novosti reported (RIA Novosti, May 14).

No drop-off has taken place in Iran's petroleum sales to other nations, the Xinhua News Agency quoted Iranian Oil Minister Rostam Qasemi as saying on Tuesday.

"We are not facing any decrease in (oil) exports," Qasemi said in remarks reported by Iran's Mehr News Agency (Xinhua News Agency, May 15).

Separately, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi appears to have been aware of an effort to obtain materials for a purported undisclosed nuclear program when he led Iran's Sharif University more than 20 years ago, according to an analysis of telexes by the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington.

Salehi in 1991 inked an assurance to a European dealer of supplies with applications in a potential atomic initiative. The academic institution Salehi then represented was playing a role in acquiring such items on behalf of Iran's armed forces, ISIS head David Albright said.

"Salehi knew about or was involved in efforts to create an alleged parallel military nuclear program that is of great interest to the IAEA now," the expert told Reuters. "And the intention of that program was probably to make nuclear weapons, including producing highly enriched uranium."

A spokesman for Iran's U.N. delegation, though, said Salehi had at no point been tied to unlawful actions. "We believe that publishing these type of fabricated stories are an attempt to foil the upcoming negotiation," the official stated (Tabassum Zakaria, Reuters III, May 16).

Meanwhile, U.S.-Iranian relations could suffer in light of steps by the Obama administration to potentially drop the Iranian resistance group People's Mujahedeen from a government blacklist, the Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday (Solomon/Perez, Wall Street Journal, May 15).

Tehran executed 24-year-old Majid Jamali Fash following his conviction for the fatal 2010 bomb attack against nuclear physics professor Massoud Ali Mohammadi, Reuters quoted Iranian media as saying on Tuesday (Marcus George, Reuters IV, May 15).

May 16, 2012

A potential move by Iran toward compromise in upcoming discussions over its atomic program could create a months-long rift between six major governments in talks with the Persian Gulf state, experts said in comments reported by Reuters on Wednesday.