Tuesday, November 20, 2007

News from Iran

The long-awaited IAEA report on Iran’s nuclear program has dominated the coverage in the Iranian media. The report showed Iran making “substantial progress” in clarifying ambiguities on its past work, but it also declared that the knowledge about Iran’s present nuclear activities was diminishing and the agency could not make an assessment of the state of nuclear program in Iran. The report also confirmed that Iran has built 3,000 uranium enrichment centrifuges.

Iranian officials claimed vindication from IAEA report and celebrated their victory. The celebration might have been pre-mature. While the report praises Iran for providing information on the program’s past, it does say Iran has built 3,000 centrifuges, a number generally considered as a threshold for building a nuclear weapon program, and it also says that Iran is not providing as much information on its present nuclear activities. In other words, the report can not say whether Iran is building an atomic bomb.

The US and its European allies predictably argued that the number of centrifuges in operation coupled with the lack of transparency on present activities meant Iran could indeed be developing nuclear weapons. China and Russia, also as predicted, argued Iran must be given more time to fully cooperate with IAEA to ease international concerns over its nuclear program.

The Nuclear Program

· IAEA Director General Mohammad ElBaradei released IAEA report on Iran’s nuclear program; report showed Iran making progress in clarifying ambiguities on its past work, but knowledge about present activities was diminishing; report could not make an assessment of Iran’s present activities; ElBaradei’s report confirmed Iran has accomplished installation of 3,000 centrifuges and has injected uranium gas to all enrichment machines.
· Iranian officials claimed vindication from IAEA report; President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said bullies intended to prevent Iran from progress but the world will understand that Iran was right; Foreign Ministry Spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said IAEA report proved Iranian nuclear program has been logical and transparent.
· Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili said UN Security Council should no longer regulate Iran’s nuclear program; an Iranian foreign ministry spokesman warned a third UNSC resolution would endanger “present trend of cooperation” with IAEA.
· The French Foreign Ministry spokesman said IAEA report shows Iran has provided only partial responses to international concerns over its nuclear program; a German Foreign Ministry spokesman called the report "not encouraging"; A UK Foreign Office spokesman said London will pursue further Security Council and EU sanctions failing upcoming EU-Iran talks.
· US State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said IAEA report’s “partial credit” to Iran resolve issue of whether Iran is developing nuclear weapons; White House Spokeswoman Dana Perino said IAEA report makes clear Iran is not interested in working with the rest of the world.
· Under intense Western pressure, China agreed to 5+1 Group meeting on Iran sanctions after earlier refusing to take part; China’s refusal had threatened to force cancellation of 5+1 meeting; China wanted IAEA to have more time to inspect nuclear sites in Iran (1).
· Swiss President Micheline Calmy-Rey said possibilities to mediate in Iran’s nuclear dispute existed; Calmy-Rey said Iran’s dossier has arrived at a decisive stage; Calmy-Rey said a war with Iran might affect millions of people; Switzerland was sounding out possibilities for starting direct negotiations with Iran.
· Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said threats against Iran would complicate the nuclear issue; Russia said it will soon start shipping nuclear fuel to Iran’s Bushehr reactor; Russia’s nuclear fuel producer Novosibirsk said it has invited IAEA inspectors to begin sealing fuel for shipment to Iran.
· Influential editor of Keyhan called IAEA report “positive” but insufficient and “contradictory.”

Iran-US Relations

· Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called on US to apologize to Iran for accusing it of seeking to develop nuclear weapons; Ahmadinejad said recent IAEA report found Iran truthful about key aspects of its nuclear history; he added the whole world saw US allegations were not true and Iran's activities were clean and peaceful.
· US President George Bush said a nuclear armed Iran would threaten the security of the Middle East and beyond; President Bush said unless Iran agreed to suspend enrichment, international pressure must and will grow.
· Commander of US Central Command, Admiral William Fallon, said Iranian behavior in Middle East not helpful; Adm. Fallon said Iranians should not make a mistake thinking US is afraid of them.

Major Domestic Storylines

· Iranian Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Shirin Ebadi called on Iranian government to suspend its uranium enrichment activities; Ebadi urged Iranians to support a national campaign to prevent a military conflict with US; Ebrahim Yazdi, former foreign minister and leader of Iran’s Freedom Movement, said enrichment is not a matter of national security for Iran; Yazdi said by suspending enrichment, Iran can avoid war.
· Iran’s Intelligence Minister Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ezhei said former Iran’s nuclear negotiator Hossein Moussavian gave classified information to British embassy in Tehran; Moussavian was arrested earlier this year and then freed on bail.

Major Regional Storylines

· Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini urged Iraq not to back US claims it meddles with Iraqi Shia insurgency; Hosseini said US accusations that Iran backs violence in Iraq are false; Iraqi government spokesman Ali Al Dabbagh had said Iran was showing more restraint in sending people and weapons to destabilize Iraq.
· Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited Bahrain; Bahraini government has pledged that it will not allow its territory to be used to wage a conflict with any of its neighbors; Bahrain is home base of US Fifth Fleet.
· Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez made his fourth trip to Iran in two years; Chavez and Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have called on OPEC to switch away from dollar and price oil in a basket of currency.
· President Ahmadinejad called his French counterpart, Nicolas Sarkozy, young and inexperienced; Ahmadinejad had sent a letter to Sarkozy; French daily Le Monde said Ahmadinejad's letter to Sarkozy contained “veiled threats.”

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