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U.S. Denies Willingness to Accept Iranian Uranium Refinement

The Obama administration on Monday said it continues to stand by international demands for Iran to halt all uranium enrichment, the Iran Independent News Service reported (see GSN, May 2).

The U.N. Security Council has adopted four sanctions resolutions aimed at pressuring Tehran to halt its uranium enrichment program, an effort Washington and other Western capitals believe is geared toward establishment of an Iranian nuclear-weapon capability. Iran maintains its nuclear program includes no military component.

Administration insiders, though, in comments reported last week voiced willingness to accept continued Iranian production of 5 percent-enriched uranium if the Middle Eastern nation allowed tighter international scrutiny intended to ensure its atomic assets are not diverted for use in weapons (see GSN, April 30). Diplomats from Tehran are expected on May 23 in Baghdad to meet for the second time this year with representatives of the five permanent Security Council member nations and Germany in a bid to address concerns over Iranian atomic activities.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said "our position remains as it has been.

"We want to see Iran live up to its international obligations including the suspension of uranium enrichment as required by multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions," Nuland said to journalists (Iran Independent News Service, May 2).

Iran should move rapidly to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency in making available "relevant sites and information," permanent Security Council member nations China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States said in collective remarks on Thursday.

"We remain concerned by Iran's persistent failure to comply with its obligations under [Security Council] resolutions," Reuters quoted the powers as saying

The five nations, during a nonproliferation event in Vienna, Austria, said they want a "sustained process of serious dialogue."

"We expect that subsequent meetings ... will lead to concrete steps toward a comprehensive negotiated solution which restores international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of the Iranian nuclear program," their statement continues. "We will be guided in these efforts (talks with Iran) by the step-by-step approach and the principle of reciprocity."

Officials with the U.N. nuclear watchdog hope to travel to Iran's Parchin armed forces installation "rather sooner than later," IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano told Reuters on Thursday, reaffirming prior statements of alarm over "activities" at the site.

Such comments by Amano might be a signal of agency suspicion that Iran is seeking to conceal signs of past activities at the facility, Western envoys have said. The U.N. nuclear watchdog has noted concerns that the Parchin site has been used for research activities with potential nuclear-weapon applications.

"We would also like to have access to, not only the site, but information and people related to Parchin," Amano added. "I hope that these activities will not make our verification difficult."

The agency recently announced plans to restart consultations with Iran on May 14 and 15. Tehran in March tentatively offered to permit IAEA personnel to inspect the base after denying access to high-level IAEA teams that made two visits to the country this year, according to a previous report

"We hope we can make progress [but] I do not have a concrete indication that we would have access to Parchin," he said (Dahl/Copley, Reuters I/MSNBC, May 3).

Separately, Iranian Supreme National Security Council Undersecretary Ali Bagheri joined Chinese and Russian officials this week for discussions addressing the standoff over his country's atomic activities, Iran's Mehr News Agency reported. Bagheri conferred on Tuesday with Chinese Assistant Foreign Affairs Minister Ma Zhaoxu, and on Wednesday with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov (Mehr News Agency, May 2).

A high-level Iranian diplomat on Wednesday referred to Israel as "the gravest threat to [regional] stability and security" in the region, the Associated Press reported. Israel is widely thought to be the Middle East's sole nuclear-armed state, but the nation has publicly neither confirmed nor denied possessing such weapons.

The arsenals of "certain nuclear-weapon states" in the global nonproliferation regime and "continued modernization" of the weapons constitute "the most serious threat to the survival of mankind," Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Mahdi Akhondzadehhe added at the Vienna event, a preparatory session for the 2015 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty review conference. The official's language suggests he was referencing the three Western nuclear powers but not Being or Moscow, according to AP.

The powers are guilty of a "lack of effective and systematic progress towards implementing nuclear disarmament obligations" under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, he said. "Certain nuclear-weapon states are expected to display sincerity and political will rather than hypocrisy with regard to their nuclear disarmament obligations" (George Jahn, Associated Press I/Houston Chronicle, May 2).

"While certain countries such as France express concerns over peaceful nuclear activities of Iran ... they have spared no effort in helping Israel ... to develop inhumane nuclear weapons," Reuters quoted the official as saying (Dahl/George, Reuters II, May 2).

Meanwhile, Israel might be less inclined to take military action against Iranian atomic sites in the near future in light of steps to bump up a vote on the nation's leadership, the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday quoted multiple government insiders as saying.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, who as early as next week could disclose plans for a September vote, in recent months has joined Defense Minister Ehud Barak in referencing the possibility of an armed campaign aimed at setting back Iranian nuclear activities. Still, such an action could prove a liability during a political campaign, according to observers.

"He can't do anything before elections," Israeli Labor Party lawmaker Daniel Ben-Simon said. "He's a lame duck. Nothing will be decided before the vote."

One-time Netanyahu administration insider Naftali Bennett said a victory in the upcoming poll would "internationally ... give [Netanyahu] a mandate on Iran" (Edmund Sanders, Los Angeles Times, May 2).

Barak , though, on Wednesday stated "the election would have no affect on considerations on the professional level regarding the Iranian issue," AP reported.

The vote "will not be a consideration in the Iranian issue," Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon added. "If we need to make decisions we will make them," he told the newspaper Maariv (Ian Deitch, Associated Press II/Google News, May 2).

Former Israeli army intelligence head Shlomo Gazit on Tuesday said any strike by his nation would probably prompt Tehran to increase the pace of subsequent atomic efforts, the Jerusalem Post reported (Yaakov Lappin, Jerusalem Post, May 2).

Netanyahu was set to receive an update on multilateral dialogue with Iran from European Union foreign chief Catherine Ashton, who was slated to travel to Jerusalem on Wednesday, Haaretz reported (Barak Ravid, Haaretz, May 3).

Elsewhere, a nongovernmental analysis indicates Iran is now generating less unrefined petroleum than at any other point in the last two decades, the Wall Street Journal reported. The decrease is "the result of the country's growing isolation due to its nuclear program," JBC Energy GmbH in Vienna said on Wednesday (Benoit Faucon, Wall Street Journal I, May 2).

The two largest petroleum acquisition companies in India are slated to cut purchases of Iranian unrefined oil by no less than 15 percent over a 12-month period concluding in March 2013, the Journal on Wednesday quoted informed sources as saying (Sharma/Choudhury, Wall Street Journal II, May 2).

National Iranian Oil has dismissed reports of significant Chinese and Japanese reductions to purchases of unrefined petroleum from Iran, Agence France-Presse reported on Wednesday.

Chinese sales "have not decreased at all" and "all of the contracts between Japanese refineries and [National Iranian Oil] have been extended until the end of the year," Mohsen Qamsari, the company's head of foreign operations, told Mehr News (Siavosh Ghazi, Agence France-Presse/Google News, May 2).

A Spanish firm has reportedly signed a $2.1 billion agreement with the Society of Iranian Petroleum Industries Equipment Manufacturers for supplying Iran with petroleum and gasoline systems, according to United Press International (United Press International, May 2).

U.S. Assistant Treasury Secretary Daniel Glaser is to address penalties against Iran in meetings with public- and private-sector representatives during a 12-day tour of Israel, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the Treasury Department said on Wednesday (U.S. Treasury Department release, May 2).

Iran obtained $567 million in weapons over 36 months despite a Security Council call for U.N. member states to "exercise vigilance and restraint" in such transfers to the country, the London Telegraph on Thursday quoted an Oxfam analysis as saying. The armaments were believed to be predominantly of Chinese and Russian origin (David Blair, London Telegraph, May 2).

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