Iran Update: Number 152

  • Russia proposes new diplomatic effort; IAEA and Iran continue stalemate
  • Nuclear program facing more delays
  • Sanctions
  • Assassination of Iranian with alleged links to nuclear program

Russia proposes new diplomatic effort; IAEA and Iran continue stalemate

In July, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov proposed a step-by-step solution to the Iranian nuclear problem, which would see Iran rewarded with a gradual easing of sanctions and other punitive measures in return for answers to questions about its nuclear program. Iran is currently receiving details of the proposal and has seemed willing to discuss the Lavrov plan, with high-level bilateral meetings planned for August. Russia’s Secretary of Security Council Nikolai Patrushev will visit Tehran on August 15, where he will discuss the Lavrov plan with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Saeed Jalili, Secretary of the Iranian Supreme National Security Council. Ali Akbar Salehi, the Iranian Foreign Minister, will then be in Moscow August 17 to discuss the plan with Lavrov. Ramin Mehmanparast, the Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson, said on August 2 that “Russia holds a reasonable stance, makes efforts towards finding a diplomatic way of settlement instead of an erroneous path of threats and pressure chosen by the West. We welcome that.” U.S. reactions to the plan have been lukewarm. At the time Lavrov made the proposal in Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton commented, “We are committed to our dual track of pressure and engagement and we want to explore with the Russians ways that we can perhaps pursue more effective engagement strategies.”

At the 23rd U.N. Conference on Disarmament Issues (Matsumoto, Japan, July 27-29), Yukiya Amano, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), repeated that while the IAEA “can verify nuclear material declared by Iran under its Safeguards Agreement is not being diverted,” Iran was still not cooperating to provide “credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities” and had not provided reassurance about evidence of other studies that could be related to nuclear weapons research.

Following talks with Amano on July 12, Iranian Foreign Minister Salehi said that Iran would improve its cooperation with the IAEA in return for the IAEA closing the file on alleged studies connected to nuclear weapons research. The IAEA says their probe, part of a work plan agreed to by Iran in 2007, has been consistently undermined for the past three years. The work plan was intended to resolve NPT safeguards implementation issues. Iran maintains it has cooperated fully and answered all the questions set out in the plan. Salehi said the probe goes beyond the conditions agreed upon four years ago, and that any new questions should be set “within the framework of a new mechanism… based on the fact that the IAEA should say the first stage is over and those outstanding issues have been answered.” The Iranians are frustrated with what they see as an attempt by some countries in continually raising new questions to prevent the Agency acknowledging the level of cooperation elsewhere. Despite a statement coming from the IAEA saying Amano “indicated that he is not in a position to consider the Work Plan to be completed,” both sides said they had an interest in continued dialogue.


Nuclear program facing more delays

It appears Iran’s efforts to increase production of uranium enriched to nearly 20% have taken longer than originally planned. Iran had announced in June that it would move production of higher grade uranium from Natanz to the underground Fordow site once it installs more centrifuges, and to triple output there. The plan was to install the centrifuges at Fordow by the beginning of August, but when IAEA experts inspected the site on July 23 no centrifuges had been installed. The Fordow site is slated to house about 3,000 centrifuges, half of which will be used to produce the higher grade uranium. Diplomats told AP the placement of other essential components had, however, progressed significantly, and speculated that delays are due to technical problems. Iran has dismissed such reports that its activities at the Fordow site have been slow.

Meanwhile, no specific date has been confirmed for the full launch of the Bushehr nuclear power plant. The Iranian foreign ministry had recently issued assurances that the launch would happen by the end of August, but the Iranian Parliament is raising doubts about this timeline. The project has faced numerous delays throughout its history and most recently has been lingering in the testing phase after reaching criticality in May. Deputy Chairman of the Iranian Parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, Hossein Ebrahimi, warned Russia against delaying Bushehr’s final launch, after a Russian foreign ministry spokesman had said that an exact date had not been set. But Moscow has also indicated that it has been waiting for Tehran’s request for a preferred date. Construction on the Bushehr plant started in the mid-1970s in cooperation with the German company Siemens but was halted after a U.S. embargo on hi-tech supplies following the 1979 revolution. In the mid-1990s, Russia reached a deal with Iran to complete construction of the plant.


Sanctions

On July 28 the U.S. Treasury Department accused the Iranian government of aiding an Al-Qaida network and proceeded to blacklist six Al-Qaida operatives. The Iranian government has allegedly let Al-Qaida use its territory as a pipeline for funneling money, facilitators and operatives from the Middle East to persons in South Asia, including Attiyah Abd al-Rahman, Al-Qaida’s presumed second-in-command. However, there are strong doubts on the possible level of cooperation between Al-Qaida and Tehran. Al-Qaida has often denounced Iran’s administration, and in Iraq has targeted and killed Shiites. Any cooperation between Al-Qaeda and Iran is therefore believed to be limited and guarded.

India has begun repaying its $5 billion oil debt to Iran, using Turkey’s Halkbank as an intermediary. Tehran had previously threatened to halt its exports. About 12% of India’s crude oil imports come from Iran, which is India’s second largest supplier (after Saudi Arabia). India’s debt had been accumulating since December 2010 when the United States pressured India not to use the Asian Clearing Union (ACU) for paying Iran, and persuaded Germany to disallow these transactions to take place through German banks. Although the U.S. and U.N. sanctions aimed at Iran’s nuclear program place no restrictions on buying Iranian oil, they have significantly impaired international bank payments to the country. Although Saudi Arabia had said it would send millions of extra barrels to India in August in anticipation of a shortfall in Iranian oil, the head of the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) said on July 31 that exports would not be delayed as the two countries agreed to promptly resolve the dispute.

China also owes Iran money because of the sanctions, reportedly as much as $30 billion.

On August 3 Iran’s parliament voted to appoint Brigadier General Rostam Qasemi, a senior Revolutionary Guards commander, as the country’s new oil minister, despite U.S., EU, and Australian sanctions leveled against him for alleged connections to his country’s nuclear program. Qasemi said he plans to make Iran the world’s top gas producer and the region’s leading refiner. Iran is the second largest producer of oil in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), of which it currently holds the rotating presidency. The sanctions Qasemi is subjected to are financial and will not restrict him from travelling abroad, including to Vienna where OPEC is based.
 

Assassination of Iranian with alleged links to nuclear program

Speculation surrounds the death of an Iranian scientist who was shot in Tehran on July 23. Iranian news agencies initially published information identifying the victim as Darioush Rezaie and indicated he was involved in Iranian nuclear activities. The reports were then quickly withdrawn, with Iran’s intelligence minister Heydar Moslehi denying Rezaie had any links to the program. Tehran then said the victim was actually an electronics student named Darioush Rezaeinejad. An official from a member nation of the IAEA, however, reportedly verified that the victim was named Darioush Rezaeinejad, but that he was a nuclear physics expert involved in the development of high-voltage switching systems that can, besides some civilian applications, be used to set off the explosions needed to trigger a nuclear warhead. The official apparently showed AP an abstract of an article Rezaeinejad co-authored three years ago entitled “Designing, Manufacturing and Testing a Closing Switch”, which provides “details about the designing, simulating, building and testing” of such hardware. If this is true, Rezaeinejad would be the third casualty in a spate of attacks targeting Iranian nuclear physicists since early 2010.

Der Spiegel on August 2 reported that an intelligence insider attributed the assassination to Mossad, Israel’s national intelligence agency, as part of a campaign to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program. Officials in Israel are reportedly not denying any involvement in the attack. Iran has blamed both the United States and Israel for the attack, an accusation Washington has denied.

Naomi Falkenburg, BASIC

 

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