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Nuclear Divisions Precluded Setting Further High-Level Iran Talks: EU

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton listens to a question at a news conference on Tuesday following a two-day multilateral discussion with Iran on its disputed atomic activities. Ashton said meeting participants this week planned no further high-level exchanges because their disagreements are too significant (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko). European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton listens to a question at a news conference on Tuesday following a two-day multilateral discussion with Iran on its disputed atomic activities. Ashton said meeting participants this week planned no further high-level exchanges because their disagreements are too significant (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko).

Iran and six major governments did not plan a new meeting of senior delegates to discuss the Middle Eastern nation's disputed nuclear efforts because the sides are too far apart on the matter following a two-day session in Moscow, European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said in comments reported on Tuesday by the New York Times (see GSN, June 19).

Lower-ranking representatives from the negotiating states -- Iran, China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States -- would evaluate the potential for additional senior-level discussions when they meet in Turkey in roughly two weeks, the Times reported.

This week's meeting in Moscow aimed to address suspicions that Iran's nuclear program is geared toward establishment of a weapons capability; Tehran insists its nuclear ambitions are strictly peaceful. The event followed a May session in Baghdad and an April meeting in Istanbul, Turkey (Barry/Gladstone, New York Times, July 19).

"After five plenary sessions and several bilateral meetings, we have begun to tackle the critical issues," Deutsche Presse-Agentur quoted Ashton as saying. "However, it remains clear that there are significant gaps between the substance of the two positions" (Deutsche Presse-Agentur, June 20).

Ashton said the sides had conferred in a "tough and frank" manner, and she backed a call by the six powers for Iran to end production of 20-percent enriched uranium, relinquish stored material and shutter the underground Qum enrichment plant, Agence France-Presse reported. In exchange, the governments offered to provide Iran with medical reactor fuel and access to nonmilitary air transit equipment, according to earlier reporting.

"The choice is Iran's," the official said. "We expect Iran to decide whether it is willing to make diplomacy work, to focus on reaching agreement on concrete confidence-building steps, and to address the concerns of the international community" (Agence France-Presse I/Channel News Asia, June 20).

"These decisions have not been taken yet because we have to see how things evolve," a prominent Obama administration insider said to the Los Angeles Times in reference to the potential for additional multilateral exchanges between senior officials.

"We're taking this step by step and we are going to see if Iran is prepared to make the choices it needs to make," the source said (Paul Richter, Los Angeles Times, June 19).

Ashton said next month's meeting in Istanbul would seek to "increase the understanding" of Iran's stance. However, a number of observers suggested officials had planned the lower-level event close to the end of this week's meeting to protect Russia's image as its host, the London Guardian reported.

"They want the process to die some place else," an insider said (Julian Borger, London Guardian, June 19).

Iran has sought multilateral acknowledgement of the legality of its uranium refinement operations, and political activities in Iran and the United States mean neither side is likely to offer much ground in an effort to resolve the dispute, according to the New York Times. Uranium refinement can yield material for civilian as well as military applications.

Still, this week's discussion included positive developments, diplomats for the five permanent U.N. Security Council member nations and Germany said. Iran "for the first time in many years" replied extensively to an offer put forward by the six other countries, a high-level U.S. government insider noted.

“We are going to see whether Iran is ready to make the choices it needs to make,” the source added. “We are not going to get trapped in a process that we think is not a productive one, so we’re taking this step by step. The sanctions will be increasing, and we told the Iranians that there will be more pressure coming if this proceeds forward” (Barry/Gladstone, New York Times).

Iran in this week's exchange provided a "considerable level of detail" on its atomic efforts, but "still left us with many questions," Reuters quoted the same insider as saying. "And they made assertions we obviously do not agree with. ... We have quite a long way to go."

Next month's discussion would address a disagreement between the sides on the nature of activities at the Qum site, the source said.

"If we stop negotiations today, they will be making (20 percent) uranium every single day. So it is worth it to push the negotiations hopefully to a positive end," the insider added. (Justyna Pawlak, Reuters I, June 19).

Iran in this week's exchange for "the first time ... talked about the core issue of uranium enrichment," a European international relations official said to the Financial Times (Blitz/Clover, Financial Times, June 19).

Senior Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili on Tuesday said his nation "has no problem with transparency, rather it has a problem with deprivation."

"We said (during the talks with the world powers) that the Iranian nation's right to access peaceful nuclear energy, particularly uranium enrichment and nuclear fuel production cycle, should be recognized," Iran's Fars News Agency quoted Jalili as saying. "We emphasized that uranium enrichment is the inalienable right of the Iranian nation" as a member nation to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty  (Fars News Agency I, June 19).

Iran is entitled to refine uranium to "all levels," AFP quoted him as saying The United States and its allies fear Iran's enrichment of uranium to 20 percent -- ostensibly to fuel a medical reactor -- could enable faster preparation of weapon-grade material with an enrichment level of roughly 90 percent.

"We insisted on the fact that the enrichment of uranium for peaceful purposes to all levels is the right of the Islamic Republic," Jalili said (Agence France-Presse II/Channel News Asia, June 19).

This week's meeting was "more serious and more realistic" than this year's prior gatherings, AFP quoted him as saying.

Still, the dialogue could suffer as a result of EU and U.S. economic penalties due to take effect within weeks, Jalili said. Measures include an EU embargo on Iranian oil.

"If a path against this approach is started and certain actions disturb this approach, it will definitely affect the result of these talks," the official said. "Any wrong move, and any move not on this approach will definitely not be constructive, and will have an appropriate response" (Agence France-Presse I).

Iranian insiders said Tehran could withdraw from the diplomatic process if its entitlement to a peaceful atomic effort goes unacknowledged and if punitive steps remain in place against Iranian petroleum operations, DPA reported. One such insider said an unfavorable reply from Ashton would result in "the end of the negotiations in its current configuration" (Deutsche Presse-Agentur).

“All the sanctions that are supposed to come into force on July 1 will come into force on July 1,” Ashton spokesman Michael Mann told Bloomberg on Monday. “We’ve taken a political decision that this is an important measure to put pressure on the Iranian regime” (Bloomberg, June 18).

A high-level Obama administration insider said Washington had "not put on the table significant sanctions relief," and penalties would be "ongoing and intensifying," the Christian Science Monitor reported on Wednesday.

"All of our sanctions will go into effect on July 1, and there will be further sanctions to come, so our dual-track policy is not changing," the source said. "Because we are in negotiations, the second track, the pressure track, is not stopping because in fact they haven't taken any concrete action" (Scott Peterson, Christian Science Monitor, June 20).

Experts, though, have suggested Washington would probably exclude Beijing from financial penalties targeting state purchasers of Iranian petroleum, CNN reported on Wednesday (Steve Hargreaves, CNN, June 20). Insurers in Iran have indicated they could cover shipments of the nation's petroleum, Fars News reported on Tuesday; EU penalties are set to bar European firms from offering such protection (Fars News Agency II, June 19).

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius on Tuesday said additional economic penalties are forthcoming, Reuters reported.

"We regret that Iran has still not made the concrete gestures that we were waiting for and that could constitute a first step towards respecting U.N. Security Council and IAEA resolutions," Fabius said. "Sanctions will continue to be strengthened as long as Iran refuses serious negotiations."

The six negotiating governments would consider possible new measures following the lower-level exchange with Iran slated for July 3, he said (John Irish, Reuters II, June 19).

British Foreign Secretary William Hague on Tuesday said "if Iran takes concrete steps, the international community will reciprocate," the Press Association reported (Theo Usherwood, Press Association/Google News, June 19).

Former State Department Middle East specialist Aaron David Miller said "a deal may be possible on paper, but the gaps between what Iran and the United States want on enrichment and sanctions relief can’t be bridged.”

“The negotiating process will remain just that, because the urgency required for a deal just isn’t there from either side,” the Washington Post quoted him as saying (Lally/Warrick, Washington Post I, June 19).

Iranian lawmaker Alaeddin Boroujerdi, though, said "the negotiations will eventually reach [a] positive result," Fars News reported.

"A complicated matter like the nuclear issue naturally entails long negotiations," Boroujerdi said (Fars News Agency III, June 19).

Meanwhile, a picture taken from space on June 7 indicates possible additional efforts to conceal incriminating evidence at Iran's Parchin armed forces installation, a think tank in Washington said on Wednesday. The International Atomic Energy Agency suspects the Parchin site to have housed a tank for performing nuclear weapon-usable combustion studies; it has unsuccessfully this year sought access to the installation.

"The image shows heavy machinery tracks and earth displacement throughout the site," the Institute for Science and International Security said in an analysis. Since May 25, remnants from a destroyed structure at the complex had been "consolidated into piles just north of the site of the former building," the group added (see GSN, May 31).

"There is evidence of earth moving machinery and excavation activity near the second demolished building north of the building suspected to contain the high explosive testing chamber," the analysis states. "Clearly defined roads that previously led to several of the buildings are no longer discernible due to machinery traffic or earth removal. The security barrier that previously ran along the perimeter of the site has also been removed. Areas close to the suspect building that contained access roads and vegetation now appear to have been bulldozed or disturbed by machinery."

"The latest imagery also shows a notable amount of water flow from nearby an object placed next to the alleged high explosive testing building," the assessment's authors added. "It is hard to distinguish what the object is or the purpose of the water. The water flows into areas that have seen considerable activity due to heavy machinery traffic or earth removal, activities which appear likely to persist" (Institute for Science and International Security release, June 20).

A top Israeli official called for Iran to end all uranium refinement, relinquish all related technology and "remove all underground facilities," U.S. News and World Report reported on Tuesday.

"There is no way Israel will accept a nuclear Iran," Vice Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz added. "If Iran becomes nuclear, it will become a different world."

"Just because you have tougher sanctions doesn't mean we have four or five months," he said. "We have limited time" (John Bennett, U.S. News and World Report, June 19).

Israeli Foreign Ministry Deputy Director General Jeremy Issacharoff on Tuesday said Iran is thought to possess the material resources "for four to five nuclear devices," Kyodo News reported.

"Obviously this material has to be taken and further enriched to weapons grade, but we feel that the program is moving forward at an accelerated pace and that the Iranians are making every effort to consolidate their threshold capability as a nuclear weapons state," the official said (Kyodo News, June 19).

A legislative assessment indicates Washington is poised to boost the number of U.S. military personnel in Kuwait to 13,500, the Associated Press reported on Tuesday.

"The region faces a myriad of political and security challenges [including] the Iranian nuclear program," the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
document states (Associated Press/New York Daily News, June 19).

Elsewhere, Western government sources have described the Flame malware as a U.S. and Israeli product designed specifically to gather data to aid in electronic efforts to hinder Tehran's nuclear-armament preparation capacity, the Post reported (Washington Post II, June 19).

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