Iran update: number 134

Summary

  • Iran and US delegations clash again at the NPT PrepCom
  • Tehran further clarifies its priorities in the upcoming negotiations with the E3+3; won't suspend enrichment; EU endorses proposed meetings between E3+3 and Iran
  • US Senate Foreign Relations Committee releases report on Iran; Congress introduces more proposals for sanctions
  • Gates tours Middle East to discuss negotiations with Arab allies
  • Iranian court releases Iranian-American journalist convicted of spying
  • Israeli military leaders say they have continued preparations for possible strike on Iran's nuclear facilities; Prime Minister discusses Iran with policymakers in Washington
  • Iran test-fires Sejil-2 missile

 

Iran used the third session of the NPT Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) held at U.N. Headquarters in New York from May 4 to May 15 to launch an attack against the nuclear weapon states' failure to disarm. In his opening statement, Mohammad Ali Hosseini, Deputy Foreign Minister for Legal and International Affairs, argued that the nonproliferation aspects of the NPT have been overemphasized. He defended Iran's adherence to the terms of the NPT, endorsed the establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free-zone in the Middle East, and criticized Israel's stockpiling of nuclear weapons, claiming that it posed the greatest threat to peace and stability. Other officials attending the conference claimed that Iran is attempting to divert attention away from its own violations of the NPT. On the last day of the conference, Iran joined other non-nuclear weapon states in demanding nuclear security assurances from the nuclear weapon states.

Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller, who led the US delegation to the PrepCom, expressed her concerns over Iran. On May 8, she reiterated the Obama Administration's call for "direct diplomacy" with Tehran, but also criticized Iran's refusal to suspend its uranium enrichment program and called on Iran to cooperate fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). She claimed that Iran's actions are in violation of their NPT commitments, and that "Iran needs to address the international community's concerns and restore international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program."

Tehran has said that it remains committed to participating in the negotiations proposed in early April with the P5+1 (otherwise known as E3+3). The Chairman of Iran's parliamentary Commission on National Security and Foreign Policy, Alaeddin Boroujerdi, recently told the Fars News Agency that all sides could reach a mutually-beneficial conclusion if Iran's uranium enrichment program was recognized as legitimate. He also suggested that US firms "participate in bids for building nuclear power plants in Iran," arguing that this would alleviate concerns about Iran's nuclear activities. Tehran is currently preparing a package of proposals for the negotiations, which reportedly will include issues related to nuclear security, global energy, and nuclear disarmament. The European Union voiced strong support for the proposed meeting in a statement issued by its foreign ministers at the end of April. The ministers called on Iran to "take this opportunity to engage seriously with the international community."

Director General of the IAEA, Mohamed ElBaradei, believes "Freeze for Freeze is the next realistic step. The Iranians would install no more centrifuges, the West would forego further sanction measures. During this time, there would be intensive negotiations." He also said that an attack on Iran would be "insane," leading to additional conflict in the region and "the Iranians would immediately start building the bomb."

A report released on May 4 by the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee highlighted that there is no evidence that Iran is producing a nuclear weapon, though it has enhanced its capabilities in the three components for such a weapon — fissile material, warhead design and delivery systems, giving it greater power in the region and threatening an arms race. The report advises the Obama Administration to continue pursuing diplomatic engagement and to win more support from Russia and China.

The Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act (IRPSA) is currently in the US House of Representatives (bill H.R. 2194) and the Senate (bill S. 908). It would direct the President to sanction firms exporting refined petroleum products to Iran. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently indicated that the Obama Administration is prepared to impose further sanctions against Iran if negotiations prove "inconclusive or unsuccessful." Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hassan Qashqavi warned that these would have no impact on Iran's decision-making, and Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki restated Iran's position that its nuclear program is strictly for peaceful purposes.

While on a tour of the Middle East in early May, US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates explained that the Administration is "pretty realistic and will be pretty tough-minded if we still encounter a closed fist" from Tehran. On this tour Gates met with America's Arab allies in the region, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia, to reassure them over US negotiations with Tehran. US regional allies fear that such a move would disproportionately increase Iran's power and influence in the Middle East.

On May 11 the Iranian national court reduced the sentence on Iranian-American journalist Roxanna Saberi convicted of spying to a two-year suspended term and released her from prison. A senior US Administration official suggested that this move may have been part of a plan to pave the way for negotiations with Washington. "Those who are trying to engage with the US won out" over those opposed to dialogue, the official explained in an interview with The New York Times. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, had urged the courts to exercise restraint during Saberi's trail, seeking a magnanimous image prior to the presidential elections on June 12. He had been accused by opponents of needlessly alienating Iran from the international community by his use of inflammatory rhetoric against Israel and his unwillingness to compromise on Iran's nuclear program.

The Israeli military has continued to develop plans to conduct short-notice air strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities. "The message to Iran is that the threat is not just words," one official told the London Times. But it remains unclear whether Israel would or could launch such an attack without explicit or tacit approval from the United States. The Chairman of the Iranian Parliament Ali Larijani warned Israel that a preemptive strike against Iran's nuclear facilities would be met with a strong response. The Saudi Arabian newspaper al-Watan reports that the Iranian military deployed mobile ground-to-air missiles along the Strait of Hormuz to protect its nuclear facilities.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with President Barack Obama and members of the US Congress on May 18 in Washington. He made clear that Israel still views Iran as the greatest threat to his country's security and sought assurances that this threat would be treated seriously. During a joint press conference, President Obama said that he hopes negotiations can start after Iran's elections and that he expects Iranian leaders to show more cooperation over the controversy surrounding their nuclear program by the end of the year. However, the president did not indicate that this expectation would serve as part of any ultimatum deadline.

Two days after the meeting, Iran reportedly test-fired a surface-to-surface Sejil-2 missile from a site in its northern Semnan province. The Sejil-2 is a two-stage solid fuel ballistic missile with a range of approximately 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles), which would be far enough to reach Israel, US bases in the Gulf, and southeastern Europe. President Ahmadinejad claimed that the Sejil-2 "landed exactly on the target." Following the launch, the top counter-proliferation official in the Obama Administration, Gary Samore, explained to reporters at an Arms Control Association conference in Washington, DC on May 20 that the Sejil-2 gives Iran "a significant [military] advantage" due to its enhanced mobility and ability to fire on short notice. He added that he hopes that this latest test will convince Russia and other countries of the severity of the Iranian threat.

 

Stories and links

Iran announces successful missile test, Thomas Erdbrink and Debbi Wilgoren, Washington Post, May 20, 2009
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/ 2009/05/20/AR2009052000523.html?hpid=topnews&sid=ST2009052001769

Journalist's release shows Iran divide, Nazila Fathi and Mark Landler, The New York Times, May 12, 2009
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/13/world/middleeast/13iran.html?_r=1&hp

Ahmadinejad to be candidate in Iran presidential vote, Ali Sheikholeslami and Ladane Nasseri, Bloomberg, May 8, 2009
http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid= 20601104&sid=aCJpMSu9AX9c

Statement by Rose Gottemoeller, Assistant Secretary of State for Verification, Compliance, and Implementation, Department of State, United States of America , Third Session of the Preparatory Committee of the 2010 NPT Review Conference, New York, May 8, 2009
http://www.reachingcriticalwill.org/legal/npt/prepcom09/ statements/8MayME_US.pdf

Gates to reassure allies on Iran outreach, Lara Jakes, Associated Press via Washington Times, May 4, 2009
http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/may/04/ gates-plans-reassure-allies-iran-outreach/

Minister defends Iran nuclear plans after US threat, David Brunnstrom and Timothy Heritage, Reuters, May 4, 2009 http://www.reuters.com/article/politicsNews/idUSTRE53M5XE20090424

Statement by HE Mohammad Ali Hosseini, Deputy Foreign Minister of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Third Session of the Preparatory Committee of the 2010 NPT Review Conference, New York, May 4, 2009
http://www.reachingcriticalwill.org/legal/npt/prepcom09/ statements/4May_Iran.pdf

Berman introduces legislation to prevent Iran nuclear weapons capability, Committee on Foreign Affairs, US House of Representatives, April 30, 2009 http://foreignaffairs.house.gov/press_display.asp?id=617

Israel stands ready to bomb Iran's nuclear sites, Sheera Frenkel, London Times, April 18, 2009
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/ middle_east/article6115903.ece

MP: Iran's New Package Further Step towards Talks with 5+1, Fars News Agency, April 18, 2009
http://english.farsnews.com/newstext.php?nn=8801291154

 

Comments, editorials and analysis

Iran's nuclear and missile potential: a joint threat assessment by US and Russian technical experts, EastWest Institute, May 2009
http://docs.ewi.info/JTA.pdf

No military solution for Iran or Palestine, Daoud Kuttab, PostGlobal Blog, May 12, 2009
http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/postglobal/ daoud_kuttab/2009/05/no_military_solution_for_iran.html

Israel, Arabs have a common enemy in a nuclear Iran, Mortimer Zuckerman, US News and World Report, May 11, 2009
http://www.usnews.com/articles/opinion/mzuckerman/ 2009/05/11/israel-arabs-have-a-common-enemy-in-a-nuclear-iran.html

US Reassures Arabs on Iran Policy,Meredith Buel, Voice of America, May 7, 2009
http://www.voanews.com/english/2009-05-07-voa50.cfm

Germany's Merkel backs 'constructive dialogue with Iran', Payvand News, May 6, 2009
http://www.payvand.com/news/09/may/1064.html

Security organizations praise White House Iran strategy, criticize sanctions legislation, National Iranian American Council (NIAC), Press Release, May 6, 2009
http://www.niacouncil.org/index.php?option= com_content&task=view&id=1412&Itemid=59

Statement of Nicholas Burns before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Belfer Center, May 6, 2009
http://belfercenter.ksg.harvard.edu/publication/19007/ statement_of_nicholas_burns_before_the_senate_ committee_on_foreign_relations.html?breadcrumb=%2Fregion%2F153%2Firan

Iran: Where We Are Today, A Report to the Committee on Foreign Relations, United States of America, One Hundred Eleventh Congress, First Session, May 4, 2009
http://foreign.senate.gov/Iran.pdf

To bomb, or not to bomb, Iran, Scott Lucas, The Guardian, April 23, 2009
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/ 2009/apr/22/obama-petraeus-iran-israel

American-Israeli moment of reckoning?, Rami Khouri, Agence Global, April 20, 2009
http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=31594

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