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U.S. Questions Iranian Atomic Advances
Iran appears to have "hyped" assertions about its nuclear progress on Wednesday, the Obama administration said, adding Tehran has grown increasingly isolated and might feel compelled to rejoin multilateral talks (see GSN, Feb. 15).
The Persian Gulf regional power issued the announcements in defiance of four U.N. Security Council resolutions and numerous unilateral measures aimed at pressuring the country to halt activities that could support nuclear weapons development, Agence France-Presse reported. Tehran insists its nuclear intentions are strictly peaceful (Agence France-Presse I/India TV, Feb. 16).
"The era of bullying nations has passed. The arrogant powers cannot monopolize nuclear technology. They tried to prevent us by issuing sanctions and resolutions but failed," President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in televised remarks reported by Reuters. "Our nuclear path will continue" (Parisa Hafezi, Reuters I, Feb. 15).
The Iranian leader revealed what was referred to as an initial supply of domestically produced nuclear material for a medical isotope production reactor in Tehran. Iran has invoked the medical reactor in justifying its enrichment of uranium to 20 percent, a higher level of refinement than nuclear power systems require. The higher-enriched material also enables Iran to potentially more quickly produce nuclear-weapon fuel, which must be refined to roughly 90 percent (Fredrik Dahl, Reuters II/Mint, Feb. 16).
The United States intends to "learn more" about the step from International Atomic Energy Agency personnel overseeing the Tehran reactor, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in comments reported by AFP.
"But I would say that one thing is absolutely clear, that Iran is clearly feeling the pressure of its international and diplomatic isolation," Nuland said.
"We, frankly, don't see a lot new here. This is not big news. In fact, it seems to have been hyped," she said. "It may be that they (the Iranians) felt the need to bluster on their nuclear side even as they make clear that they do want to come back to the table for talks" (Agence France-Presse I).
Iran also has boosted to 9,000 the quantity of uranium enrichment centrifuges at its Natanz complex, Reuters quoted Ahmadinejad as saying.
The International Atomic Energy Agency in a November assessment said 8,000 of the machines were in place at the site and 6,200 were in use. The enrichment process can generate civilian fuel as well as weapon material (see GSN, Nov. 8, 2011; Dahl, Reuters II).
Separately, Iranian government representatives announced the deployment of additional higher-speed enrichment machines at the site, AFP reported (Agence France-Presse I). References to a "new generation" of centrifuges apparently denote the installation of roughly 65 IR-4 machines on a trial basis in the Natanz plant's pilot area, an envoy tied to the U.N. nuclear watchdog told the Associated Press (see GSN, Aug. 4, 2011; Associated Press I/Washington Post, Feb. 15).
Iran "almost certainly" overstated its progress on the "fourth-generation" machines, former State Department expert Mark Fitzpatrick told the London Telegraph.
"I'm skeptical that they're leapfrogging on to the next generation," Fitzpatrick said. "We shouldn't be too impressed by this. We shouldn't start to build bomb shelters yet" (David Blair, London Telegraph, Feb 15).
In addition, Ahmadinejad called for the construction of four additional research reactors, AFP reported.
"It has been estimated that four nuclear reactors in four different spots in the country are needed. Go build them, to carry out research activities and provide radio-medicine needed by the country," the Iranian president said.
Iran's Arak heavy-water reactor is presently the only other known atomic research reactor under construction. Tehran has said it intends to build 20 power reactors (Agence France-Presse II/Spacedaily.com, Feb. 15).
France and the United Kingdom issued statements of concern over Iran's announcements, Reuters reported.
The public statements do not "give any confidence that Iran is ready to engage meaningfully on the international community’s well-founded concerns about its nuclear program. Until it does so we’ll only increase peaceful and legitimate pressure on Iran to return to negotiations,” a British Foreign Office spokesman said.
Russia urged world powers to renew their efforts to achieve middle ground with Tehran over its nuclear efforts (Dahl, Reuters II).
"We are alarmed that the distance between Iran and the hypothetical possession of nuclear weapons know-how is narrowing. Therefore we think we need to come to terms in talks," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said in comments reported by Interfax.
"But I would not say we are worried by Iran being at a stage when it only has to make the political decision and the primary warhead, the primary explosive device will be created in a short time. This does not correspond to our assessment of the situation," he told the magazine Index Bezopasnosti (Interfax, Feb. 15).
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said the Iranians were "describing a situation that is better and more advanced than the one they are in, in order to create a feeling among all the players that the point of no return is already behind them, which is not true," Reuters reported.
"They are definitely making progress, but in order to deter anyone dealing with them, or perhaps even to make this seem superfluous, they are priding themselves on achievements that do not yet exist," Barak said (Reuters III, Feb. 16).
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, though, pointed to Iran's statements as evidence that international steps against the nation's nuclear work are ineffective, AP reported.
"If anybody needed a reminder that sanctions so far haven't stopped Iran's nuclear program, it was the guided tour by Iran's president of the centrifuge halls yesterday," Netanyahu said on Thursday. "I hope that sanctions work but so far they haven't worked. We are witnessing a regime that breaks all the rules and has absolutely no respect for international norms" (Amy Teibel, Associated Press II/Google News, Feb. 16).
An Israeli newspaper on Wednesday said Netanyahu's office had provided officials with suggested statements that could help to justify a potential attack on Iran, Salon.com reported (Larry Definer, Salon.com, Feb. 16).
Meanwhile, Iran has informed the European Union it would present "new initiatives" in potential future nuclear discussions with the five permanent U.N. Security Council member nations and Germany, Reuters reported. The six powers convened talks with Tehran on two separate occasions in December 2010 and January 2011, but neither gathering yielded clear progress toward resolving the dispute (see GSN, Jan. 24, 2011)
"(A) constructive and positive attitude towards the Islamic Republic of Iran's new initiatives in this round of talks could open positive perspective for our negotiation," senior Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili wrote in a reply to an October communication from EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. "Therefore ... I propose to resume our talks in order to take fundamental steps for sustainable cooperation in the earliest possibility in a mutually agreed venue and time."
Jalili called for examination of "a spectrum of various issues" in preparation for "constructive, forward-looking cooperation."
The official's statement is "ambiguous" but appeared to communicate "the start of opening up from Iran" to new atomic talks, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said.
Examinations are under way to determine if Iran "is ready to engage meaningfully," a British Foreign Office added.
One British official noted, "The key issue last time was (Iranian) preconditions, and preconditions are not mentioned in (this) letter" (Fredrik Dahl, Reuters IV, Feb. 16).
Iranian Ambassador to Russia Mahmoud Reza Sajjadi on Thursday said: “In my view, all parties know that the sextet talks should be resumed without any preconditions," ITAR-Tass reported.
“Western countries are indifferent to (Russian Foreign Minister Sergei) Lavrov’s step by step plan (see GSN, Feb. 9). They delay the issue by discussing new sanctions or by wrecking talks,” Sajjadi added (ITAR-Tass).
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