Iran Update: Number 146

  • IAEA continues its plea for more information
  • Dialogue remains at standstill but resumption of talks possible in late autumn
  • United States continues to lead international sanctions drive
  • Iran suffers cyber attack and alleges espionage at nuclear facilities
  • Another delay for the Bushehr power reactor

IAEA continues its plea for more information

The latest International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report released last month, found that Iran has continued to accumulate low-enriched uranium (LEU) at the Natanz fuel enrichment plant while conducting research and development for advanced centrifuges. It estimates that Iran has 2.803 tonnes of 3-5% enriched uranium, and notes that no progress has been made on outstanding questions about the nuclear program’s possible military dimensions and that Iranian officials have not responded with design information for the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant. The IAEA also records that Iran has refused access to specific inspectors. Director General Yukiya Amano  urged Iran to fully implement IAEA rules allowing two additional inspectors into the country, but Tehran has insisted that it has the right to reject specific inspectors and also urged the Agency to improve its impartiality toward its nuclear program. Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) members expressed their support for Iran's position, arguing that Iran is within its legal right to object to certain inspectors and that it should not have to "justify" its opposition.

In addition, the IAEA reports that Iran has accumulated 22 kilograms of nearly 20% enriched uranium, which Iran says is designated to the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR). The TRR is an internationally-monitored facility that Iran uses for the production of medical isotopes.

 

Dialogue remains at standstill but resumption of talks possible later in the autumn

Though there are promising signals, concrete diplomatic engagement over Iran's nuclear program has remained elusive. Iran welcomed a new EU proposal for the P5+1 talks to take place in mid-November, but repeated previous demands that the P5+1 allow more countries to join the discussions (Turkey and Brazil), clearly state whether their countries want to have hostile or amiable relations with Iran, and declare their position toward Israel's undeclared nuclear arsenal. Ramin Mehmanparast, Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman, said Iran is now awaiting a response from EU Foreign Policy chief Catherine Ashton, who has been facilitating the coordination of a meeting date among the parties.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad previously affirmed, "We are ready to hold nuclear talks with the P5+1 group,” in particular around the fuel swap deal, but also said that the talks would "have no impact whatsoever on the course of Iran's nuclear program." During a presentation to the U.N. General Assembly in September, Brazil's Ambassador Celso Amorim reiterated a possible deal around the TRR and his country's continued support as a party to the Tehran Declaration, but admitted that "The Tehran Declaration does not exhaust the issue. It was never its intention to do so."

   

United States continues to lead international sanctions drive

The United States has continued to impose tougher sanctions against Iran while coordinating further international pressure beyond U.N. Security Council resolutions. The European Union, Canada, Japan, and South Korea have also levied new sanctions. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg warned foreign financial institutions that they may be penalized if they continue to keep their ties with sanctioned individuals and entities.

China remains reluctant to implement stricter or wider sanctions against Iran, despite EU and U.S. pressure. There have been concerns among U.S. officials that some Chinese companies have been violating U.N. sanctions against Iran, citing general instances of transferring technology that could be used for Iran's missile program and for developing more advanced centrifuges. Whilst the Chinese Foreign Ministry refused to deny the violations, it said that China is committed to implementing the U.N.-backed sanctions.

Russia and India publicly distanced themselves from the EU and U.S. imposition of new sanctions while also urging Iran to be more transparent over its nuclear program. However, Russia has prohibited the sale of certain kinds of weapons to Iran and has apparently cancelled the previous S-300 missile deal. Russia was initiating plans to reimburse Iran for payments it had already made for the system. India was planning to ask President Barack Obama for a waiver from U.S. sanctions when he visits the country in November. Additionally, India is still looking to engage with Pakistan and Iran to create a $7.5 billion 'peace' pipeline.

Iran recently hosted Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, partly to discuss gas and oil deals. Turkey also dismissed taking sanctions beyond those agreed by the Security Council, and announced its aim to triple its volume of trade with Iran over the next five years. On October 19, the United States was sending the Treasury Department's undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, Stuart Levey, to Azerbaijan and Turkey to urge more cooperation with U.S. led-sanctions efforts.


Iran suffers cyber attack and alleges espionage at nuclear facilities

Iran admitted that the Stuxnet worm infected many of its computers located at nuclear facilities, as it had at industrial plants around the world. No one has yet claimed responsibility, and analysts have been unable to confirm that the virus was created specifically for the purpose of attacking computers in Iran. Still, experts have suggested that the cyber attack was highly sophisticated and was likely the result of government planning or a very knowledgeable and well-coordinated group, with some speculation pointing to the involvement of the Israeli military. Iran arrested an unspecified number of suspects who were allegedly involved with the computer attack, according to Iranian Intelligence Minister Heyder Moslehi.

More broadly, Iran's nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi confirmed that there have been espionage attempts to infiltrate Iran's nuclear program. He declared that Iran has strengthened security at relevant facilities in response to the infiltration. Iran's semi-official Fars News Agency was reporting on October 13 that five Iranian nationals would soon be tried for spying on behalf of foreign countries and divulging sensitive national intelligence.

 

Another delay for the Bushehr power reactor

Whilst due to come on-stream imminently, the Bushehr nuclear reactor has suffered yet another delay. Ali Akbar Salehi attributed the delay to a leak in the pool that holds the fuel rods next to the reactor. Speculation about the cause of the delay had included the possibility that the Stuxnet worm infected Bushehr’s computers. An Iranian spokesman confirmed that the Stuxnet worm had infiltrated personal computers at the facility but did not affect the control system. Iran now hopes the reactor will receive fuel in November.

 

With contributions from Taek Jin Han and Chris Lindborg, BASIC

 

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