Iran Update: Number 147

  • Iran-P5+1 negotiations likely within next few weeks
  • IAEA releases new report as Iran clashes with IAEA, questions neutrality
  • Iran experiencing more problems with centrifuges
  • International sanctions regime intensifies
  • Iran starts loading Bushehr nuclear power plant

Iran-P5+1 negotiations likely within next few weeks

Iran and the P5+1 will most likely meet on December 5, but Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that Iran is only willing to speak about regional security issues, not Iran’s “basic right” to nuclear power and a full fuel cycle. “We have repeatedly said that our (nuclear) rights are not negotiable. … We only hold talks to resolve international problems … to help the establishment of peace,” said the Iranian President. Iranian officials have also for the time being ruled out talks about a direct nuclear fuel exchange modeled on the agreement in October 2009.

The location for the meeting has been a point of contention, with Iran having suggested Turkey, but the P5+1 insisting on Vienna or Geneva, as independent international locations, at least for the initial talks. Catherine Ashton, EU foreign policy chief and representative of the P5+1 in liaison with Iran, says that she is waiting for Iranian officials to formally confirm acceptance of the date and place.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul has said that Turkey can play a key role in brokering a deal between Iran and the P5+1, but this has been rejected by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, stating that, “It is a P5 plus one meeting with the Iranians.” Iran has consistently stated its desire for Turkey and Brazil to be included in talks related to its nuclear program. On a related note, Turkey recently secured allied agreement for NATO not to single out Iran when mentioning potential threats justifying the adoption of the Alliance’s expanded U.S.-led missile defense program.

Turkey’s Tehran Declaration partner, Brazil, recently held an election which resulted in a win for President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s preferred successor, suggesting some continuity in foreign policy toward Iran. President-elect Dilma Rousseff affirmed that Brazil will maintain its close ties with Iran but only for peaceful purposes. Of the crisis over Iran, she said, “We don’t believe that war is the method to solve conflicts.”


IAEA releases new report as Iran clashes with IAEA, questions neutrality

The IAEA’s latest report on Iran, released on November 23, confirms that the Agency “continues to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran,” but that “Iran has not provided the necessary cooperation to permit the Agency to confirm that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities.” Iran continues to accumulate enriched uranium, including a total of about 33 kg of uranium enriched up to near 20 percent levels. Iran has now produced a total of 3.18 tons of low enriched uranium (LEU), despite IAEA and U.N. resolutions demanding a cessation to these activities.

The report reiterates the Agency’s lack of progress in obtaining clarification about “outstanding issues which give rise to concerns about possible military dimensions to its nuclear programme, including by providing access to all sites, equipment, persons and documents requested by the Agency.” The Agency also issued warnings about Iran’s plans for additional nuclear sites and the expected commencement for the construction of one nuclear site possibly as soon as March 2011, but that Tehran has so far not provided required design information. Similarly, Iran has continued the construction of the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant and the IR-40 reactor with heavy water activities, but the Agency has been denied full access to the sites. The IAEA did acknowledge Iran’s cooperation over the Bushehr nuclear power plant. The report again raises Iran’s refusal to admit the entry of certain IAEA-selected inspectors. The IAEA continues to urge Iran to fully implement IAEA and U.N. Security Council resolutions.

IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano had iterated similar conclusions before the U.N. General Assembly on November 8, emphasizing that “Iran has not provided the necessary cooperation to permit the Agency to confirm that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities.” Iran immediately responded to the statement by questioning the neutrality of the IAEA. On November 9, Iranian Deputy Ambassador Eshagh al-Habib commented on Amano’s statement as being “incorrect and misleading,” and claiming that the IAEA has full access to facilities. Al Habib pointed out that “it seems that the recent reports of the agency have been prepared under pressure from the outside.”

On November 11, in the interview with the state broadcaster, IRIB, President Ahmadinejad warned, “The acceptance of the Additional Protocol would be tantamount to placing all of our nuclear activities under the supervision of the IAEA which would in turn pass our information to America.”  Esmail Kosari, Deputy Chairman of the parliamentary security committee said that Amano is under the influence of the West and cannot act “independently.” “Unfortunately, Amano does not make any decision independently, and is obedient to the influential countries like the United States, Britain, and France.”

Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iranian envoy to the IAEA, stated Iran would not reject proposed changes in the method of IAEA inspections as long as they are in accordance with the Agency’s safeguards and inspection agreement by member states. “Such [an] approach … will reduce tension caused by political issues since scientific facts will be the base for passing judgment,” Soltanieh said on November 2. Also, the IAEA assured Iran on its commitment to protect the confidentiality of information gathered from the inspections. “IAEA takes great care to protect the confidentiality of information it collects during all its safeguards activities,” said IAEA press officer, Greg Webb.


Iran experiencing more problems with centrifuges

Senior diplomats have told The Associated Press that Iran has been forced to temporarily shut down the operation of thousands of centrifuges. The Stuxnet computer worm was again suspect because it is capable of causing centrifuges to spin out of control and break. Stunex has attacked Siemens-designed industrial equipments and computers of engineers who are involved in nuclear programs. However, Iran’s atomic agency head Ali Akbar Salehi maintained that technicians detected and stopped the virus before it caused significant harm. The IAEA’s November 23rd report on Iran confirms that Iran did stop feeding centrifuges briefly in mid-November, but does not provide an explanation.

Olli Heinonen, former IAEA Deputy Secretary General, has previously noted deficiencies in Iran’s program, whether caused by Stuxnet or not. “When you look at what is happening at Natanz, it becomes clear that they are having difficulty moving ahead with uranium enrichment. They have installed 8,000 centrifuges at the facility, but only 3,000 of these are currently operating. … The centrifuges are not operating well, and some of them are failing. They are losing materials because of this; and so, with this defective equipment, they will have a hard time enriching the material to a level high enough to enable the production of nuclear weapons.”


International sanctions regime intensifies

An increasing number of oil companies are withdrawing from Iran. Schlumberger, one of the largest oil-service companies in the world, has closely worked with Iran despite the sanctions, but has warned it will pull out from Iran after the current contracts are completed. BP suspended its operations at the Rhum gas field in order to comply with EU sanctions against Iran. BP had a joint venture with Iranian Oil Co. U.K. Ltd to secure oil reserves. Major oil firms, including BP, Royal Dutch Shell, Total, Statoil, Eni and Q8, stopped sales of jet fuel to Iranian state-owned airlines, in order to comply with EU sanctions. Tehran claims that it is a violation of the Chicago Convention on Aviation which ensures no restrictions be imposed on commercial airliners. Iran Air CEO Farhad Parvaresh said, “Iran is taking the necessary legal measures through appropriate international bodies in this regard and this matter has been raised with the Hague tribunal through the appointment of lawyers … The companies which were forced to refuse fuel to Iranian planes under pressure from the United States are the ones who incurred the real loss.”

President Ahmadinejad has again dismissed the impact of the sanctions. Iranian Minister of Commerce Mehdi Ghazanfari contended that Iran maintains normal trading and investment relations with other countries despite the sanctions imposed by the United States and its allies. Iranian Oil Minister Masoud Mirkazemi also denied the impacts of the sanctions yet stressed that the Iranian oil industry needs foreign investment of $150 billion or more over the next few years to improve production.

Western sources claim the sanctions are biting. One diplomat was reported to have told The Telegraph: “The supply of dollars suddenly dried up, which caused blind panic … Iran will not ever come to the table and more or less surrender but this has hurt the middle class who want to acquire dollars to travel, trade and as a hedge against inflation.” Foreign exchange bureaus limited exchanges for the Iranian rial at $2,000 and then only to those who possessed a passport and airline ticket, and the central bank of Iran dispatched officials to Turkey and Azerbaijan to acquire dollars over the counter. Dennis Ross, senior director for the Central Region Directorate at the U.S. National Security Council, said before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) National Summit, “Iran is struggling to sell its currency abroad and access hard currency from its traditional suppliers. The currency run is symptomatic of the public’s concern that the government is mismanaging the economy.”

A U.N. report claimed that North Korea has circumvented sanctions by continuing its deliveries of missiles, components and technology to Iran and Syria.

Following the refusal of Russia to sell any S-300 air defense systems to Iran, General Mohammad Hasan Mansourian has announced that Iran will begin constructing its own air defense system. Iran announced that it recently conducted successful tests of its domestically-produced S-200 air defense system, but which has inferior capabilities to the S-300.

U.S. President Barack Obama has extended the 31 year-old state of national emergency over Iran – a classification established since the hostage crisis in 1979 – stating: “Our relations with Iran have not yet returned to normal, and the process of implementing the January 19, 1981, agreements with Iran is still under way.”

Doubting that sanctions will garner cooperation from Iran, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during a visit to the United States that “the greatest danger facing the world is the prospect of a nuclear Iran.” Netanyahu also said that a credible military threat is the only way to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. Iran responded by warning that it will file an official complaint with the U.N. Secretary General and referring to Israel as an “illegal regime.”


Iran starts loading Bushehr nuclear power plant

On October 26, Iran started to load fuel into the nuclear plant near Bushehr. The plant is scheduled to produce electricity early next year after all 163 fuel rods are loaded into the reactor core and tested. Iranian authorities stated that the facility will generate 1,000 megawatts of electricity. Ali Akbar Salhi, the chief of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization, said, “We hope that nuclear electricity would enter the national grid within the next three months.” The Bushehr plant had recently been attacked by the Stuxnet computer worm, slightly adding to delays that have long plagued the launch of the facility.

Experts point out that there is little chance of proliferation in the Bushehr plant as long as the plant is operated by a Russian state company under IAEA supervision. In an interview with the BBC, Mark Fitzpatrick, a senior fellow for nonproliferation at the International Institute for Security Studies, stated that there is a “misplaced level of anxiety” in the West over the Bushehr plant. Hillary Clinton said that the United States has more pressing concerns, “Our problem is not with their reactor at Bushehr, our problem is with their facilities at places like Natanz and their secret facilities at Qom and other places where we believe they are conducting their weapons program.”

Taek Jin Han and David Adelman, BASIC

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