Tuesday, January 31, 2012

IAEA-Iran Talks End - UPDATE

Talks between Iran and the IAEA ended today. The IAEA inspectors wrapped up three days of visit to Tehran, even though on Monday the Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi had said that the IAEA team could extend the visit and inspect Iran's nuclear sites. The IAEA has not yet explained the reason for the early end to the visit.

Meanwhile, Iran’s Press TV quoted a member of the country’s parliament, Majlis, as saying that Iran will ban IAEA inspectors from re-entering the country if they publish an unreal report.

“Iran to ban IAEA inspectors if they lie,” said MP Mostafa Kavakebian [Press TV, 31 January].

The warning could be a sign that the talks in Tehran did not go all that well and the Iranian lawmaker was already positioning the country to characterize the report to be issued by the inspectors after their departure from Iran as simply “lies.”

UPDATE: The IAEA mission leader Herman Nackaerts announced after arriving in Vienna that the IAEA team plans to revisit Tehran “in the very near future.” The announcement indicates progress in talks with Iran.

“We had three days of intensive discussions about all our priorities, and we are committed to resolve all the outstanding issues,” Nackaerts told reporters in Vienna. “And the Iranians said they are committed, too. But of course there's still a lot of work to be done," he added. "So we have planned another trip in the very near future." [AP, 1 February 2012].

Iran Sanctions Have Been Biting – U.S. Intelligence

Country Positioning Itself to Build Nuclear Weapons Should It Chooses to Do So

Iran is feeling the bite from economic sanctions imposed over its nuclear program, the director of CIA told Congress on Tuesday.

“The sanctions have been biting much, much more literally in recent weeks than they have until this time,” CIA Director David Petraeus said at a Senate intelligence committee hearing.

“What we have to see now is how does that play out, what is the level of popular discontent inside Iran, does that influence the strategic decision-making of the Supreme Leader and the regime, keeping in mind that the regime's paramount goal in all that they do is their regime survival,” Gen. Petraeus added.

But Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, giving testimony to the same panel, acknowledged that sanctions so far had not caused the Iranian leaders to change their behavior or policies.

“Iran's economic difficulties probably will not jeopardize the regime, absent a sudden and sustained fall in oil prices or a sudden domestic crisis that disrupts oil exports,” Clapper's written testimony said.

Evaluating the impact of the current sanctions on Iran oil exports, Petraeus said that China has reduced imports of Iranian oil but “it remains to be seen whether that continues.”

“It appears that Saudi Arabian production is ramping up and can fill some of the demand that might have been met by Iranian exports now that there are the sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran,” he said.

On state of Iran’s nuclear program, Clapper said Iran was positioning itself to produce nuclear weapons whenever it decides to do so.

"We assess Iran is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons, in part by developing various nuclear capabilities that better position it to produce such weapons, should it choose to do so," Clapper said in written testimony. "We do not know, however, if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons."

Source: Reuters, 31 January 2012

U.S. Navy Repairs Iranian Ship

Stranded in Persian Gulf

The personnel of U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln, the U.S. aircraft carrier currently positioned in the Persian Gulf, today helped repair a stranded Iranian fishing boat that was carrying nine crewmembers. A U.S. military helicopter stationed on the carrier spotted the boat after its crew sent out a distress call and started waiving a cloth. The U.S. Navy personnel boarded the Iranian dhow and repaired the ship’s overheated engine.

“After ensuring the dhow was operational, and the crew was safe with sufficient amounts of food, water and fuel to continue its transit, the (U.S.) teams departed the scene and returned to their ships," said a statement issued by the U.S. Navy [Reuters, 31 January].