Iran update: number 119

Summary

  • Proposals for negotiation between Iran and the P5+1
  • IAEA report issued to Security Council and Board on May 26th after Iran and IAEA held "positive and constructive" talks
  • US policy on Iran contested
  • Ahmadinejad under pressure over the economy
  • IISS Report suggests Iranian nuclear programme feeds regional proliferation

Pre-empting completion of the revised P5+1 package, Iran presented its own offer to UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon on May 13th. Entitled "the Islamic Republic of Iran's Proposed Package for Constructive Negotiations", it outlines the issues on which Iran is willing to negotiate, including: "security issues, regional and international developments, nuclear energy, terrorism, democracy, etc., that provide a substantive potential for cooperation" as well as a broad discussion around regional security issues and the creation of a Palestinian state. The letter also suggested the creation of an "enrichment and fuel production consortium" within Iran, apparently along the lines outlined by Sir John Thomson in his latest BASIC paper last week. It did not mention suspension.

While the P5+1 have yet to directly comment on Iran's package, US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack, said on May 16th that their package to Iran had been finalized and Javier Solana would present it to Iran shortly. McCormack reiterated that the United States would not directly meet with Iran until Iran had suspended uranium enrichment. One of the key uncertainties with the package will be the question of security assurances: Russia had hinted that Iran would be offered them, while the US has insisted no such offer will be made.

The IAEA has released to the Security Council and Board its latest report on Iran's nuclear programme. Media reports suggest that it castigates Iran for failures to fully cooperate over alleged historic studies into weaponization, though it also points out that there is no evidence suggesting weaponization studies are live. Iran met the IAEA for talks on its nuclear programme from May 12th to 14th, immediately after the conclusion of the NPT Preparatory Committee. IAEA officials had already travelled to Tehran to discuss intelligence allegations over previous military-related research. Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's ambassador to the IAEA, described the three-day meeting: "technical and expertise discussions were held in a positive and constructive atmosphere".

In a wide-ranging and bullish address to the Israeli Knesset on May 15th, President Bush declared that the US would stand by Israel in all circumstances. On Iran in particular, he said, "permitting the world's leading sponsor of terror to possess the world's deadliest weapon would be an unforgivable betrayal of future generations". However, Administration officials have sought to play down speculation about a military attack before Bush leaves office, and other senior US officials are taking a more diplomatic approach. Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, is leading a bipartisan congressional delegation to Israel, is quoted as saying: "I don't know what is to be gained by a military strike except to strengthen the president of Iran and to send up the cost of oil, but I do think that we must not take anything off the table". US Defense Secretary Gates told a meeting of the Academy of American Diplomacy, "we need to figure out a way to develop some leverage . . . and then sit down and talk with them... ...If there is going to be a discussion, then they need something, too. We can't go to a discussion and be completely the demander, with them not feeling that they need anything from us." Gates also proposed allowing more cultural exchanges. Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said that he is "hopeful" that a military conflict with Iran can be avoided as "it would be a very significant challenge for the United States right now to get into a third conflict in that part of the world". Adm. Mullen advocated using financial, diplomatic and political pressure to end the dispute over Iran's nuclear programme. Israel's Prime Minister, Ehut Olmert, suggested a naval blockade to prevent Iran acquiring sensitive technologies.

The Iranian President has come under unusually direct attack this last week for his handling of the economy. The Governor of the Central Bank of Iran, Tahmasb Mazaheri, rejected Ahmadinejad's instruction to set bank rates at between 10 and 12 percent. The previous month Iran's Economy Minister resigned in protest at "unscientific" government policies. Former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani later openly criticized Ahmadinejad for populist spending policies that were fuelling inflation (running at 20%). Reformists appear confident that the new Parliament is likely to be more critical of the President - they are set to select Ali Larijani as Speaker, former nuclear negotiator and now a key political challenger. There is no dissent over Iran's nuclear programme, however, which appears to receive universal support across the political classes.

A IISS report published last week suggests Iran's nuclear programme is already feeding proliferation across the Middle East. The authors highlight the political and strategic drivers in the context of a region rich in oil and gas reserves.

 

Stories and links

Israel says US sees need for "tangible action" on Iran, Reuters, May 16 http://uk.reuters.com/article/latestCrisis/idUKL1669745620080516

A talk With President Peres, Washington Post, May 12
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/05/11/AR2008051101784_3.html

Azerbaijan: nuclear cargo for Iran remains stuck At border, RFEL, April 30 http://www.rferl.org/featuresarticle/2008/04/7c9024da-2449-4552-b459-
de58a83570dc.html

Italy's foreign minister to be tough on Iran-report, Reuters, May 15 http://www.reuters.com/article/newsOne/idUSL1546974820080515

India backs Iran's peaceful nuclear programme, India Times, May 12
http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/World/India_backs_Irans_peaceful_nuclear_programme/articleshow/3033884.cms

Iran rejects nuclear inspections unless Israel allows them, AP News, May 5 http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5gvr7j491Cmq9QVFPn-gLjgBDX9tQD90FMQEG0

Bush in Saudi Arabia to press king on oil and Iran, Reuters, May 16
http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20080516/pl_nm/bush_mideast_dc_10

McCain criticizes Obama for wanting Iran talks, Reuters, May 19 http://uk.reuters.com/article/oilRpt/idUKN1954398520080519

Obama criticizes McCain, Bush on appeasement talk, AP, May 16
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-
dyn/content/article/2008/05/16/AR2008051602009.html

US alerts banks to 'legal risk' of Iran support, Financial Times, May 13
http://www.ft.com/cms/s/05aa43b8-2087-11dd-80b4-
000077b07658,Authorised=false.html?_i_location=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ft.com%2Fcms%2Fs%2F0%2F05aa43b8-2087-11dd-80b4-000077b07658.html%3Fnclick_check%3D1&_i_referer=&nclick_check=1

 

Comments, editorial and analysis

A sensible path on Iran, Washington Post, May 27 by Zbigniew Brzezinski and William Odom
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/05/26/AR2008052601740.html

Shaping a Nuclear Iran, Washington Post, May 18 by Ray Takeyh Time to discard the formula of "suspension for incentives" for one that trades "enrichment for transparency."
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/05/16/AR2008051603434.html

Not all is sweetness and light between Iran and Russia, Seattle Times, May 15 http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/opinion/2004415133_russiairanop15.html

Iraq: The elusive Iranian weapons, LA Times, May 8 http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/babylonbeyond/2008/05/iraq-the-elusiv.html

Doubting the evidence against Iran, Time, May 5 http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1737543,00.html

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