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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Iran Makes Nuclear Headway, IAEA Says

Defying the U.N. Security Council, Iran has continued to both enrich uranium and expand its capacity to process even more material, the International Atomic Energy Agency disclosed today.

The nation's uranium enrichment centrifuges at Natanz have so far manufactured 630 kilograms of low-enriched uranium, and work is under way to assemble significantly more centrifuge "cascades," according to a report by agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei that was circulated today.

In addition, Iran has tested a small number of more advanced centrifuges by feeding them gaseous natural uranium, the report says.

So far, Iran has kept enrichment levels below 5 percent, a typical level for the type of nuclear power reactors the nation has said it wishes to build.

Like earlier reports, this document complains of Iran's refusal to offer complete cooperation as the agency tries to understand the full scope of Iran's two-decade-old nuclear program that Tehran only acknowledged in 2003. U.S. and Western officials have warned that Iran is seeking a nuclear-weapon capability, while Tehran has steadfastly denied such charges, claiming instead that is is developing the infrastructure for civilian nuclear power.

The agency has met particular resistance in seeking information about Iran's possible weapon-related research.

"Regrettably, as a result of the lack of cooperation by Iran in connection with the alleged studies and other associated key remaining issues of serious concern, the agency has not been able to make substantive progress on these issues," the report says.

The report could fuel U.S. efforts to persuade key U.N. Security Council members to adopt additional sanctions against Iran, a step that was recently rejected by Russia (see GSN, Nov. 17; Greg Webb, Global Security Newswire, Nov. 19).

Such tools could gain leverage over Iran as the global economic crisis persists, a foreign policy adviser to U.S. President-elect Barack Obama said yesterday.

Dennis Ross, a veteran diplomat of the George H.W. Bush and Clinton administrations, called for Washington to threaten harsher penalties against Tehran for refusing to comply with its demands while simultaneously offering more significant incentives for cooperation, the Denver Post reported. The United States has expressed concern that certain Iranian atomic activities could contribute to a nuclear weapons program, but Tehran contends that its atomic aims are strictly civilian.

A drop in the cost of oil, which supplies Iran with 85 percent of its income, has dramatically affected the country's economy, Ross said during an event in Denver.

"When they imposed (gasoline) rationing last year, there were riots; gas stations were burned down," he said, noting that Iran is suffering from a 29.4 percent inflation rate while unemployment in the country hovers between 30 and 40 percent.

"I don't suggest that the regime is teetering on the brink of collapse because I don't think that is the case," he said. "But what I'm highlighting is that they are going to have to make choices. And if we can marshal greater pressure on them, then you are going to put them in [a] situation where they are going to have to make decisions that they've been allowed to avoid."

Ross said the Bush administration has adopted "the approach of weak sticks and weak carrots" to deal with Iran.

"The sticks weren't strong enough to concentrate their minds, and the carrots weren't strong enough to give them a reason to rationalize changing their course," he said.

"We need to engage them directly," Ross added. "Barack Obama made it clear he was prepared to engage Iran directly, but he also said we have to prepare" (Howard Pankratz, Denver Post, Nov. 18).

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband has said that "sanctions are clearly having an impact on the Iranian economy," Arab News reported yesterday.

"All diplomatic means” are being explored to convince Iran to halt its disputed nuclear activities, the Jerusalem Post quoted him as saying. Miliband did not comment on the potential results of a failed diplomatic effort.

Miliband recently spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert about the threat posed by Iran's nuclear program, Israeli sources said (Arab News, Nov. 18).

Iran yesterday urged the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency not to be swayed by international allegations about the intent behind Tehran's uranium enrichment program, which can produce nuclear power plant fuel but also a key nuclear-weapon ingredient, Iran's Press TV reported.

"We hope that baseless claims about Iran's uranium enrichment would not influence IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei in his new report," which was expected as early as today, said Iranian Atomic Energy Organization spokesman Mohsen Delaviz.

Delaviz ruled out a potential “freeze-for-freeze” arrangement, under which Tehran would suspend uranium enrichment, six world powers would not seek new economic penalties on the Middle Eastern state and the sides would negotiate a permanent halt to Iranian enrichment.

"Western reports suggesting Iran's agreement with the 'freeze-for-freeze' package are outright lies," he said, adding that Iran would not abandon its right to develop civilian nuclear capabilities (Press TV, Nov. 18).

Delaviz reaffirmed Iran's commitment to opening its Bushehr nuclear power station next year, Reuters reported yesterday.

"The commissioning stage of [the] Bushehr nuclear power station has begun and we are hopeful the power station will be commissioned in 2009 as per the agreement we have had with the Russian party," Iranian state media quoted him as saying.

Delaviz did not provide a more specific opening time, but Russian construction contractor Atomstroiexport said in September that the facility was nearly finished and would begin "technological work" between December and February, slating it for "irreversible final" completion" (Reuters, Nov. 18).

Meanwhile, Israeli air force chief Maj. Gen. Ido Nehushtan said his service was capable of carrying out an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities, the Xinhua News Agency reported today.

Israel's air force "is a very robust and flexible force" that is "ready to do whatever is demanded," Nehushtan told Der Spiegel. He emphasized that a decision on whether to take military action was a political matter and did not involve questions about the demands a strike would make of Israel's military.

"I can only say this: [Whether to attack] is not a technical or logistical question," he said (Xinhua News Agency, Nov. 19)

(Source: NTI)

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