Iran Update: Number 139

  • Tehran continues to reject IAEA proposal; offers alternative version
  • Iran announces production of new model centrifuges; reportedly seeks more uranium ore
  • Update on Bushehr nuclear plant
  • Speculation over Iran's nuclear arms expertise
  • Tehran warns against further resolutions and sanctions, as other countries consider new measures
  • Meetings with Arab leaders possibly indicate new diplomatic effort
  • Iran reports successful test of upgraded missile

Tehran continues to reject IAEA proposal; offers alternative version

Iranian leaders have continued to reject an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)-proposal in which Iran would export a majority of its current stock of enriched uranium in return for fuel rods for its Tehran Research Reactor (TRR). The IAEA proposal would have required Iran to export 70 percent of its current stock of enriched uranium for further enrichment on foreign soil, only to be returned a year later in fuel rods that would be designed for use in the TRR, which is internationally monitored and intended primarily for medical research. Although Iran has maintained that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, the original IAEA deal would have helped to alleviate suspicions about Iran's nuclear program by slowing down Iran's progress in further enriching its current stock of uranium, and if intended, to weapons-grade levels.

Iranian leaders have repeatedly stated that they doubt Western countries would uphold their end of the deal and would be far more comfortable with gradually exporting the uranium in batches. Politico has reported that at the end of December or in early January, Iran presented to the IAEA a counterproposal. Under this alternative arrangement, Iran would still trade its low-enriched uranium for research reactor fuel rods, but the transfer would take place on Iranian soil. Iran would export its 1,200 kg of enriched nuclear fuel, probably to Turkey, in installments beginning with 400 kg, rather than exporting the entire amount at one time. However, such a swap, if to happen simultaneously as reportedly part of the counterproposal, would need to wait about a year -- the amount of time necessary before fuel rods would be ready. This arrangement would thus undermine the West's goal of having a significant amount of the enriched uranium removed in the near future. Western leaders have so far publicly rejected scenarios other than the one put forward in the IAEA's proposal.

Iranian leaders have also indicated preferences for buying the requisite fuel from overseas and increasing their own fuel production capacity, rather than trying to meet the original deal's restrictions. The IAEA stated that its proposal was "still on the table."

Iran announces production of new model centrifuges; reportedly seeks more uranium ore

In mid-December, Ali Akbar Salehi, the leader of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, told the semi-official Fars news agency that Iran is "producing [a] new generation of centrifuges named IR3 and IR4" and plans to implement them in their Natanz and Qom enrichment facilities "... by 2011 after eliminating problems and defects." Iranian officials have claimed that most parts of the new centrifuge model are manufactured domestically, which would be a sign that Iran has been able to evade sanctions imposed for continuing to enrich uranium.

The Associated Press cited a report from an unnamed member state of the IAEA, which claims that as of the end of December, Iran was close to agreeing a purchase of more than 1,300 tons of uranium ore from sources in Kazakhstan. Such a deal would violate U.N. Security Council sanctions. Kazakhstan, which has become the world's leading producer of uranium, and Iran, have both vehemently denied the allegations.

Update on Bushehr nuclear plant

Iran's first nuclear power plant will be operating by mid-2010, Iranian and Russian officials now say. Construction of the Bushehr plant began in 1974 by Siemens and ended before completion five years later around the time of the Iranian Revolution. Russia took over construction in the 1990s, but the project has suffered repeated delays. Sergei Kiriyenko, the head of the Rosatom state nuclear corporation, declared, "There is absolutely no doubt that it will be built this year. Everything is going according to schedule."

Speculation over Iran's nuclear arms expertise

The Times (London) reported on December 16th that it received a secret Iranian memo documenting scientific tests on a neutron initiator composed of uranium deuteride, which is a trigger for an implosion-type nuclear weapon. The document was neither signed, nor dated, but the Times claims that it was written in 2007. Experts, however, have yet to establish the memo's authenticity or source. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast rebuffed the report and contended that "[t]his claim has political aims and it is psychological warfare which has no basis at the International Atomic Energy Agency."

Separately, a U.S. official told Reuters on condition of anonymity that the next U.S. National Intelligence Estimate, which is soon to be completed, will say Iran has possibly resumed research around nuclear weapons, but would not suggest that Iran is working on a full-scale nuclear bomb program.

Tehran warns against further resolutions and sanctions, as other countries consider new measures

Iranian Parliament Member Kazem Jalali told the Iranian semi-official Mehr News Agency that Iran would "greatly reduce" its cooperation with the IAEA if the U.N. Security Council issues any further resolutions against Iran. Jalali argued that Iran would not be obligated to cooperate with the Agency because U.N. resolutions are "purely politically motivated." Jalali was referring to a September 30th IAEA Board of Governors resolution that reproached Iran for having covertly commenced the building of a new enrichment facility at Qom and that also demanded an immediate halt to its construction. Iran's Ambassador to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, had said in his statement to the IAEA that Iran's nuclear program would continue, despite any additional resolutions or sanctions.

In December and January, world leaders were increasing their rhetoric in response to the notional deadline for Iran to show more cooperation by the end of 2009. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was reportedly exhausting every opportunity to encourage the international community to adopt "sharp" sanctions against Iran. French President Nicolas Sarkozy called on the United Nations to take "strong measures" as well, and in response to increasing political pressures, the European-based corporate giant Seimens announced that it would cease taking business orders from Iran.

In his State of the Union Address of January 27th, U.S. President Barack Obama asserted that, " Iran's leaders continue to ignore their obligations, there should be no doubt: they, too, will face growing consequences. That is a promise." The U.S. House of Representatives and Senate passed bills that would increase sanctions on Iran, specifically targeting Iran's gasoline suppliers and elites. The two versions of the bill must be reconciled and signed before becoming law. The Wall Street Journal reported on January 28th that the United States would present to other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany a paper that would include lists of businesses and elites targeted for new sanctions, including firms controlled by Iran's Revolutionary Guards. Possibly laying the groundwork for taking forward the new sanctions proposal, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton argued for stronger pressure on Iran while she was in London for the international conference on Afghanistan - a conference to which Iran received an invitation but declined.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu, on the other hand, said that the Iran nuclear issue ought to be solved through diplomatic negotiations and indicated that additional sanctions would fail to remedy the situation. Russian officials were also more skeptical of the utility of additional sanctions, although they were voicing regret over Iran's rejection of the IAEA proposal - a plan that would have included Russian participation. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, Sergey Ryabkov, is reported to have described accusations against Iran as "irresponsible," saying that there is no hard evidence indicating that Iran is developing nuclear weapons.

Meetings with Arab leaders possibly indicate new diplomatic effort

The Tehran Times reported that Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa said all the member states support Iran's right to obtain peaceful nuclear technology. Speaking in a joint press conference with Iranian Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani, he said that there have been no reports issued by the IAEA indicating that Iran's nuclear program has been diverted to a military objective.

On a separate but related note, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was on an official tour in the Gulf region, holding talks with his counterparts in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait immediately after meeting Larijani in Cairo in the latter half of December. He is believed to have delivered a secret message from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose government may be seeking an improvement in relations with Arab neighbors. According to presidential spokesman Suleiman Awad, Mubarak's talks with Arab leaders have included the topic of relations with Iran and finding a way to prevent a military confrontation over Iran's nuclear program.

Iran reports successful test of upgraded missile

Iranian state media reported on December 16th that the country successfully test-launched an improved version of its Sajjil-2 missile. Iran's Defense Minister, Ahmad Vahidi, described the launch as an attempt to improve the country's national defense capabilities. This newer model has a projected range of approximately 2,000 kilometers, which would allow it to reach Israel, American military bases in the Persian Gulf, and far southeastern Europe.

With contributions from Nicholas Meros, Nima Khorrami Assl, and Chris Lindborg, BASIC



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Comments, Editorials and Analysis

  • Enough is Enough: Why we can no longer remain on the
    sidelines in the struggle for regime change in Iran

    Richard Haass, Newsweek, January 22, 2010

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