Iran Update: Number 144

  • Talks over Iran’s nuclear enrichment could resume in the fall
  • More sanctions levied on Iran; Tehran vows to continue enriching uranium
  • Utility and impacts of sanctions questioned
  • Tehran pushes uranium enrichment progress; United States and Russia warn Iran closer to weapons capability
  • G8 and D8 summits
  • Case of Iranian nuclear scientist adds more controversy to Iran-U.S. relations; Canadian convicted of trying to export dual-use technology to Iran

Talks over Iran’s nuclear enrichment could resume in the fall

Both Iranian and P5+1 leaders are pointing to the resumption in September of discussions over Iran’s nuclear program. Formal talks were last held in Geneva in October. Leaders from China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States and Germany, met with High Representative of the European Union Catherine Ashton in Brussels in early July to discuss the implementation of sanctions but also to plan the recommencement of the meetings. On behalf of the group, Ms. Ashton had sent a letter to Iran’s nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, requesting the resumption of talks. He replied that Iran would participate again only if the P5+1 had a more cooperative and less threatening approach, and would be open to discussing Israel’s undeclared nuclear arsenal. Ashton’s spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic welcomed Iran’s willingness to meet but added that the dialogue would need to focus on Iran’s nuclear program. The P5+1 are focused on Iran ceasing its uranium enrichment program until it meets certain international transparency and verification requirements. Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said that new countries should join the talks.

Leaders among the Vienna Group (Russia, France, the United States — countries directly involved in the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR) deal, in tandem with the IAEA) were discussing whether to have Brazil and Turkey join their negotiations over provisions to fuel the TRR. Both countries had worked to forge a version of the deal that Iran would accept, leading to the Tehran Declaration in May. The Vienna Group is currently awaiting a response from Tehran regarding questions about this version of the swap. Under the original deal proposed by the Vienna Group last October, Iran would immediately export 1,200 kg of its low enriched uranium (LEU) and then about a year later would receive the further enriched and fabricated fuel usable only for the internationally-monitored medical research reactor. Iran wanted to hold the swap on its own territory, citing a distrust of the countries involved based upon previous bad experience. To alleviate these concerns, Brazil and Turkey worked out a plan with Iran involving Turkey hosting 1,200 kg of Iranian LEU as a deposit in escrow until it finally receives the more highly-enriched fuel for the research reactor.

Mr. Mottaki said the three countries would soon resume talks on the nuclear fuel swap deal. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu explained, “The Tehran agreement is dead. … But there is a possibility of resolving this exchange of uranium based on the Tehran agreement. We have to use that.”

More sanctions levied on Iran; Tehran vows to continue enriching uranium

On June 30, U.S. President Barack Obama signed into law the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act, which will further penalize Iran over its nuclear program by imposing new energy and financial sanctions beyond the fourth round of U.N. Security Council sanctions passed earlier in June. The sanctions are intended to complicate Iran’s access to the international banking system and ability to import refined petroleum products, including gasoline and jet fuel. The EU also agreed that it will impose sanctions that further target Iran’s gas and oil industries, and travel, trade and dual-use technologies.

Speaking for the first time since the passage of new U.S. sanctions on Iran, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claimed that the new penalties will not affect Iran’s drive for economic growth and modernization and will not stop Iran’s nuclear program. Atomic Energy Agency chief Ali Akbar Salehi, however, said that sanctions could slow down the program.

Joining in the criticism, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani denounced the U.S.-led sanctions, arguing, “The world arrogance (U.S.) is trying to intimidate countries of the region, so they go along with bullying policies against Iran.” The ex-president who backed the opposition in Iran’s last elections said that the United States “will not succeed in this act.” In a letter addressed to EU foreign ministers, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said the EU’s additional sanctions would lead to “dire consequences” in their relations. He also wrote a letter to U.N. Security Council members, explaining that the sanctions will make Iran “more determined” to further develop its nuclear program.

Utility and impacts of sanctions questioned

China has criticized the United States and other countries for levying additional sanctions on Iran. Speaking at a press conference in Beijing, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said, “China believes that the Security Council resolution should fully, seriously and correctly be enforced and cannot be willfully elaborated on to expand Security Council sanctions measures.”

China’s strategic rival India expressed similar concerns, arguing that new measures could jeopardize India’s energy security and businesses. In a speech at an India-Iran strategic dialogue, Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao asserted that India is “justifiably concerned that the extra-territorial nature of certain unilateral sanctions recently imposed by individual countries, with their restrictions on investment by third countries in Iran’s energy sector, can have a direct and adverse impact on Indian companies and more importantly, on our energy security and our attempts to meet the development needs of our people.”

Russia also criticized additional U.S. and EU sanctions, made a point of reassuring Iran that Russia’s work on the Bushehr nuclear power plant would not fall to further delays, and subsequently completed final tests of the plant ahead of schedule. The head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akbar Salehi, had said before the completion of the tests that he expected Bushehr to be fully operational by mid-September.

BP decided at the end of June not to renew its contract for refueling Iranian aircraft in Hamburg, Germany, a decision probably linked to the new sanctions, and to Iranian passenger planes being stranded in Britain, Germany, and the United Arab Emirates earlier in July (on the grounds of safety concern). Kuwaiti group Q8 and the French oil firm Total said they were continuing to fuel Iranian aircraft in Germany. Total’s CEO, Christophe de Margerie, said his company was abiding by newly passed sanctions but criticized them, saying that they are a “mistake” and that “the embargo affects the population, too many things are politicized these days.”

Iranian Oil Minister, Massoud Mirkazemi, announced on July 5 that Iran has discovered a new gas field located in the Persian Gulf near Kish Island. He said that the Forouz gas field, when brought on stream, could produce about 70 million cubic meters of gas daily. However, the industrial group Khatam al-Anbiya (connected to the Revolutionary Guards and targeted by international sanctions) announced on its website (in Farsi) on July 16 that sanctions have forced it to back out of the development of the South Pars gas field, Iran’s largest gas reserve.

Tehran pushes uranium enrichment progress; United States and Russia warn that Iran is closer to weapons capability

Iran announced at the end of June that it had produced at Natanz 17kg of uranium enriched to 19.75 percent, and would be ready to fuel indigenously the TRR by September 2011. However, Iran is not yet thought to have the ability to fabricate the fuel without outside assistance. Iranian legislators passed a bill on July 18 titled, “Combating U.S. and British plots to protect nuclear achievements.” If approved by the Guardian Council, the law will mandate that Iran continue enriching uranium up to 20 percent, and retaliate against refusals to fuel Iranian planes and inspections of Iranian ships.

U.S. Central Intelligence Agency Director Leon Panetta said Iran already has enough LEU for two nuclear weapons (if it were further enriched to HEU), and could achieve weaponization within two years if certain conditions were to come together. Iranian officials said the comments made by Mr. Panetta were “psychological war.”

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev also drew criticism from Iranian leaders after repeating that Iran’s nuclear program worries him because “Iran is nearing the possession of the potential which in principle could be used for the creation of a nuclear weapon,” and added “we are waiting for the appropriate explanations from Iran.”

G8 and D8 summits

During its summit of June 25-27 in Canada, the Group of Eight (G8) called on all countries to fully implement new U.N. sanctions and said it appeared Iran was on the path to developing atomic weapons. In its Final Communiqué, the G8 urged Iran to hold a ‘transparent dialogue‘ and meet IAEA and U.N. Security Council demands.

President Ahmadinejad attended the Developing Eight (D8) Summit in Nigeria on July 8. Although the main topic of the summit was the improvement of trade relations among the developing powers, Iran received sympathy for its position of continuing its nuclear enrichment program in the face of Western pressures.

Case of Iranian nuclear scientist adds more controversy to Iran-U.S. relations; Canadian convicted of trying to export dual-use technology to Iran

An Iranian nuclear scientist, Shahram Amiri, returned home to Iran from the United States on July 15 amid western speculation that he was a CIA informant who switched back his loyalties. Reports last March said that Mr. Amiri had defected to the United States after Washington enticed him to provide information in exchange for help settling in the country, and a $5 million payment. At one point, however, the alumnus of Malek Ashtar University of Defense Technology said that he was the victim of an American abduction (or extraordinary rendition) and was seen in a self-made video asking for help. Tehran also said that the United States took him against his will and denied that he had any privileged knowledge about the nuclear program. But Washington contended that Mr. Amiri has been free to return all along, and that for several years he had served as a mole in the Iranian nuclear program before coming to the United States. They believe that the researcher wanted to return home to be with his family, and made clear that Mr. Amiri would be unable to access the $5 million paid to him for his information, while in Iran because of sanctions currently in place. U.S. officials said that although Mr. Amiri was not operating at the highest levels of the nuclear program, he was able to provide insight into Iranian nuclear facilities and verify information from other sources.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mottaki said that Iran would keep open the option of taking legal action against the United States. According to the Washington Post, the U.S. relationship with Mr. Amiri was part of a wider program to dismember the Iranian nuclear establishment and gather intelligence.

Mahmoud Yadegari, an Iranian immigrant who became a Canadian citizen, was the first Canadian convicted under the United Nations Act, for trying to export to Iran ten transducers that could be used for centrifuges in its nuclear enrichment program. He could receive a sentence of five to ten years in prison.

With contributions from Nima Khorrami Assl, Maarten Fonteijn, Chris Lindborg, Paul Ingram and Christopher Carr, BASIC


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