Thursday, March 07, 2013

7-Mar-13: Iran and its nuclear program: the state of play

From the IAEA website: Iran's Ali Asghar Soltaniyeh speaks with other
delegates at yesterday's IAEA Board of Governors
gathering in Vienna [Image Source]

As the Iranians rattle their sabres, the Americans raise their voices and the Europeans appeal yet again for patience, time and mutual understanding, it gets mighty uncomfortable sitting here in Israel and waiting to see whether the ayatollahs mean what they and their henchman say, or whether it's all just poker.

There was a closed-door meeting in Vienna yesterday of the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) 35-nation governing board. Reuters reported on it here. The Iranian factor played a role. Here are the highlights.
  • Iran's representive to the gathering, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, is a diplomat with a not-so-diplomatic approach. Reuters reports that he took the opportunity to accuse Israel of "genocide". The context? A debate about Syria.
  • The U.S. ambassador to IAEA, Joseph Macmanus, walked out when the Iranian said this. Officials from Canada, New Zealand and Australia did the same. All three came back to the room a little while later.
  • Macmanus had earlier spoken about Iran's "commitment to deception, defiance, and delay" in addressing the charges made by IAEA about Iran's covert nuclear weapons-related research. "Iran is inviting further isolation, pressure and censure from the international community... until it meets its obligations and addresses the board's concerns," he said. It has engaged in "provocative actions", particularly the installation of advanced centrifuges that would enable it to speed up its uranium enrichment.
  • Representatives of the European Union called on Iran to "stop obstructing an IAEA investigation" and "give the agency access to sites and documents".
  • Part of the meeting was explicitly devoted to IAEA's problems with Iran. During the Iran discussion, its representative - Soltanieh - said  allegations over what Iran is really doing are "baseless". It is the IAEA, and not Tehran, that should be blamed for delays in the IAEA's inquiry into Iran's true intentions and actions, according to Soltanieh. And anyway, he said, "Nuclear weapons have no place in the defense doctrine of Iran."
  • The International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) report from November 2011 suggests differently. It says Iran is developing nuclear weapons and that there is a need to address this as soon as possible. 
  • The head of IAEA is Yukiya Amano, a 65-year-old Japanese diplomat. He was appointed to a second four-year term on Wednesday. Amano said he wants to help resolve the Iran nuclear issue through diplomatic means. "For that I need cooperation from Iran," he said yesterday. Back in November 2011, he said "It is my responsibility to alert the world. From the indicators I had, I draw the conclusion that it is time to call the world's attention to this risk."
  • Reuters editorializes that IAEA has tried for more than a year to persuade Iran to give it the access it says it needs for its investigation, but without progress. Iran has refused IAEA requests to visit the Parchin military site, where IAEA inspectors suspect explosives tests relevant for nuclear weapons development took place, possibly a decade ago.
  • The Reuters report helpfully points out that the Iranians have often criticized Israeli policies towards the Palestinians and have said Israel would be wiped "off the face of the earth" if the Jewish state attacked Iran.
Time to mention Iran's friends. It has those, of course. (And we are not referring to Syria and Hezbollah whom the head of Iran's Supreme National Security Council calls its partners in the “Axis of Resistance”.) For instance
  • In the event that Israel attacks Iran before Iran crosses the US red line, Zbigniew Brzezinski does not think there is any “implicit obligation” for the US “to follow, like a stupid mule, whatever the Israelis do” [Source: RT, November 2012]. Brzezinski served as United States National Security Advisor to President Jimmy Carter between 1977 and 1981.
  • Following the November 2011 International Atomic Energy Agency report that said Iran was well on its way to developing the capacity to make nuclear weapons, Chinese and Russian diplomats announced right away that they believed no new sanctions on Iran were necessary. One report said ["China: Iran's New Best Friend"] that "China is Iran's largest trading partner, and this year alone business between the two is estimated at $40 billion, enough of an incentive, say analysts, to block any meaningful Security Council action."
  • Earlier this week, the 24th fleet of Iran's Navy, docked at China's port city of Zhangjiagang where it conducted 'training exercises", after a voyage of 13,000 kilometers in 40 days [source: Iran's PressTV channel]. En route, it "successfully intercepted 1,180 trade and tanker ships and monitored more than 120 military units using optical and electronic devices" which was presumably said in a spirit of proving how friendly and accommodating the Iranians are. For insight of a similar kind, see this December 2012 report ["Iran's ever-growing influence scares Zionist-Imperialist rulers"] also from PressTV.
  • A previous head (the one before Mohamed ElBaradei) of IAEA, Hans Blix, appears today in the Iranian media dismissing what he terms the “overhyped” Western propaganda over the "threat of nuclear-armed Iran". He says there is no evidence that Tehran is even interested in producing weapons of mass destruction.
  • Also in today's news: Pakistan is going to complete a $7.5 billion gas pipeline from Iran to Pakistan "despite pressure from the United States" [source], according to a spokesperson for the Pakistani foreign ministry speaking today to a press conference in Islamabad. The ministry also announced that Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari plans to visit Iran this coming Monday for the project's groundbreaking.
  • And a European Union court judgement handed down in the last month [see Reuters report] means that the EU is instructed to lift sanctions imposed on Bank Saderat, one of Iran's largest banks. This came shortly after a similar ruling to the same effect concerning Bank Mellat, Iran's largest private sector lender. Reuters said the judgments would complicate Western efforts to increase pressure on the Islamic Republic.
Finally, a brief extract from an op-ed in the Washington Times today, penned by Reza Kahlili, the  pseudonym of a former CIA operative in Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and author of the award-winning book “A Time to Betray”. The piece is entitled "The West’s dangerous naivete on Iranian nukes":
Iran has long thought that the West, particularly America, will do everything it can to avoid a military confrontation, leaving negotiations and sanctions as the West’s only options. It thinks that eventually the West will realize that Iran’s nuclear program cannot be stopped and, therefore, will look for a way out of this dilemma by reducing sanctions and finally accepting a nuclear-armed IranGen. Rahim Safavi, a former commander of the Revolutionary Guards and currently a special adviser to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said in a recent speech that America regrets its invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and cannot repeat another war.
Understand why we're uncomfortable?

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