The way to tackle Iran’s N-plan
Posted by Sumera Sani
Iran is slowing down uranium enrichment efforts, signalling that it wants to avoid direct confrontation over its nuclear programme, the New York Times has reported.
Some powers, including the US and officials in other Western countries, believe Iran is now interested in a deal to end the standoff with West.
According to the New York Times, the action has led some analysts to conclude that Iran’s leaders show signs that they may be more interested in a deal with the West. Evidence began emerging last summer that Iran was diverting a significant portion of its medium-enriched uranium for use in a small research reactor, converting it into a form that cannot easily be used in a weapon, the New York Times reported.
One US official said the move amounted to trying to “put more time on the clock to solve this”, saying the step, “you have to assume was highly calculated, because everything the Iranians do in their negotiations is highly calculated”.
Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said in October that Israel could safely back away from threats of military action against Iran. White House, State Department and Pentagon officials all cautioned against drawing firm conclusions about Iran’s ultimate intentions, according to the New York Times.
A new round of nuclear talks between Iran and six major powers is expected next year, and US officials say they still cannot determine whether Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is ready to strike a deal.
A US effort to engage in direct talks with Tehran after President Barack Obama’s re-election last month resulted in “no real response”, another senior official said, adding: “It wasn’t that they said yes or no.They said nothing.”
According to the paper, evidence from a variety of sources, including the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), suggests that as Iran produced more uranium that was enriched to nearly 20 per cent purity, a process that takes it most of the way to what can be called “bomb-grade fuel”, suddenly it began diverting some into an oxide powder that could be used in a small research reactor in Tehran. That diversion is believed to have begun in August.
At the same time, the IAEA says that it believes Iran has conducted explosives tests with possible nuclear applications at Parchin, a sprawling facility southeast of the Iranian capital, and has repeatedly asked the Iranians for access.
Western diplomats say Iran has carried out extensive work at Parchin over the past year — including demolition of buildings and removal of soil — to cleanse it of any trace of illicit activity. But the IAEA says a visit would still be “useful”.
Iran denies Western accusations of a covert bid to develop the means and technologies needed to build nuclear weapons.
It says Parchin is a conventional military site and has dismissed allegations of “sanitisation” there.The US has set a March deadline for Iran to start cooperating in substance with an IAEA investigation, warning Tehran that the issue may otherwise be referred to the UN Security Council. It signalled Washington’s growing frustration with a lack of progress in the IAEA’s inquiry into possible military dimensions to Tehran’s nuclear programme.
Iran was first reported to the UN Security Council over its nuclear programme by the IAEA’s 35-nation board in 2006, and then was hit by UN sanctions. Its refusal to curb nuclear work with both civilian and military applications, and its lack of openness with the IAEA, have drawn tough Western punitive measures and a threat of preemptive military strikes by Israel.
A year ago, the IAEA published a report with a trove of intelligence indicating past, and some possibly continuing, research in Iran that could be relevant for nuclear weapons. The IAEA has tried, in a series of meetings with officials since January, to gain access to Iranian sites, and to collect documents needed for the inquiry, but so far without any concrete results.
IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano is likely to say in his next quarterly report on Iran, likely due in late February, whether Tehran has taken “any substantive steps” to address the agency’s concerns.
Amano earlier told the IAEA board that there had been no progress in his agency’s yearlong push to clarify concerns about suspected atom bomb research in Iran, but said he would continue his efforts. A simple majority in the IAEA board is required to refer an issue to the UN Security Council, which has imposed four sanctions resolutions on Iran since 2006.
It is unclear whether Russia and China — which criticised unilateral Western sanctions on Iran — would back any US initiative to report Iran again to the Security Council.The European Union has said Iran’s “procrastination” was unacceptable.
“Iran must act now, in a substantive way, to address the serious and continuing international concerns on its nuclear programme,” it told the IAEA board last month.
Diplomacy between Iran and the big powers — the United States, China, Russia, France, Germany and Britain — has been deadlocked since a June meeting that ended without success.
Both sides now say they want to resume talks soon. Iran says it is ready for a “face-saving” negotiated solution to the nuclear dispute, but the West must accept the reality that Tehran would never suspend uranium enrichment.Despite the recent signs of Tehran seeking a deal, it could not be expected to be transparent in its nuclear programme (not any programme for that matter).
It is playing a cat-and-mouse game with the international community. It has always managed to stall Western action against it by seemingly engaging in talks on its nuclear programme, but has given no sign of willingness to make a compromise.
A nuclear-armed Iran is definitely a serious threat to the Arabs, both in the Gulf and in our region. Possession of nuclear weapons will embolden Iran to undertake more adventures for regional influence and step up interference in the internal affairs of Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and other countries. Its procrastination should be tackled with firmness and a no-nonsense approach.
(Courtesy: The Jordan Times-Musa Keilani)