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Uranium enrichment activities

Update on Iran: Continued Defiance, No Sanctions, and More Talk of Possible Military Action


By —— Bio and Archives--October 24, 2007

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By Emily B. Landau

Iran began a process of negotiations with the IAEA this summer with the aim of clearing up the lingering outstanding questions regarding its past nuclear activities. As always with Iran, this involves a complicated process, including pre-talks and then endless room for further conditions and clarifications down the road. Once again Iran dangles the bait of “cooperation” as a means of gaining valuable time for pressing its program forward. Russia and China, joined this time also by Germany, are unwilling to punish Iran with a third round of sanctions until it is clear how this process is evolving.

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Even if talks with the IAEA were truly a critical stage in bringing Iran back from the nuclear brink—and analysts point out just why this is not the case—the situation would still be problematic. The reason is that even if Iran ultimately provides some answers to these old questions, it remains as defiant as ever with regard to the July 2006 demand of the UN Security Council to cease its uranium enrichment activities. On this key point there is no movement whatsoever, and Iran continues working on its program as if three UN Security Resolutions had not been taken.

In fact, Iran now claims that the issue of uranium enrichment is closed. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was quoted in early October as saying that “the Iranian people are not ready to sit around a table and discuss their absolute nuclear rights. They [the world powers] have to know this.” The resignation of nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani and the appointment of Saeed Jalili in his stead further underscores Ahmadinejad’s hard line. At the same time, there are also continued indications of internal disagreement with Ahmadinejad’s approach, and his rival Hashemi Rafsanjani was recently elected speaker of the Assembly of Experts.

It’s not clear how advanced Iran is at this point with regard to its uranium enrichment activities: Ahmadinejad claims that Iran has already reached the 3000 centrifuges point, but this has not been verified. Some speculate that Iran may be facing some technical difficulties that are retarding progress; according to an IAEA memo received in Paris in early October, assessments are that Iran could have just under 3000 centrifuges operating by the end of the month. In late September, the National Council of the Resistance of Iran (NCRI) reported on a parallel military nuclear program, but the status of this claim is not clear.

As for international efforts to stop Iran, the major players have become even more divided over what steps to take. In late September, the US, Britain and France conceded to Russia, China and Germany and agreed to postpone until November a UN Security Council vote on a third round of sanctions.

But the lines in Europe are shifting, with differences among states coming into sharper focus. France has taken the harshest stance since Nicholas Sarkozy was elected President, and statements by his Foreign Minister, Bernard Kouchner, about the possible need to resort to force contribute to this new emphasis. France and Britain are pressing for a fresh round of sanctions, but Germany has softened its approach. It opposed the French idea for EU sanctions to be taken outside the framework of the UN, although it has gone along with the US-led financial sanctions. Germany also sharpened the divisions in the Security Council (although not a member of the Council, it is still a key player in this regard) by joining Russia and China in their opposition to UN sanctions. Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier even accused the US and France of hypocrisy because French and American companies conduct a good deal of business with Iran. In the case of the US, the claim is that American companies bypass the boycott by using front companies in Dubai, which explains, for example, how Coca Cola finds its way to store shelves in Tehran.

Russia’s position against sanctions has toughened, with Vladimir Putin recently claiming that there is no clear evidence that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons; but Russia is still also pressing Iran to comply with international demands. Putin’s more vocal positions, together with his recent visit to Iran, have fueled speculation that Russia could be seeking a more independent diplomatic track vis-


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