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News | New Atom Talks Agreed; Military Site Inspection Possible

06 Mar 2012 23:00Comments

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Iran Standard Time (IRST), GMT+3:30

JaliliAshtonDec2010.jpg11 p.m., 16 Esfand/March 6 The group of six world powers known as the P5+1 -- the five permanent U.N. Security Council members, the United States, Britain, France, China, and Russia, plus Germany -- have agreed to resume talks with the Islamic Republic of Iran over its nuclear program. The decision was communicated Tuesday by European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who has represented the P5+1 in previous negotiations, in a letter sent to Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili. On February 14, Jalili proposed the resumption of talks, which last broke off in January 2011 in Istanbul. (The two officials are seen at right in an image from December 2010, during a round of talks held in Geneva.)

As reported by Voice of America,

In her letter, Ashton says the goal of the six powers remains a "negotiated, long-term solution which restores international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program."

Israel and Western powers accuse Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons under cover of a civilian energy program, a charge Tehran denies. Israel sees a nuclear-armed [...] Iran [as a] threat to its existence and refuses to rule out military action to prevent Tehran from developing a nuclear weapon capability. [...]

In a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee late Monday, [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu said Israel cannot afford to wait much longer for diplomacy and sanctions to pressure Iran. Iranian state news agency IRNA says Deputy Foreign Minister Hoseyn Abdollahian rejected the Israeli leader's remarks as "bellows of fear." [...]

VOA's U.N. correspondent says a diplomat told her last week that a new round of talks is unlikely to be scheduled until April at the earliest.

In an important related development, as noted by the New York Times,

There were conflicting reports on Tuesday about Iran's readiness to permit inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations' nuclear supervisory body, to visit a secret military complex to which they have been denied access. An Iranian news agency, ISNA, said that Iran had reversed its refusal to permit I.A.E.A. inspectors to visit the complex at Parchin, southeast of Tehran.

But a news release from Iran's representatives at the I.A.E.A. headquarters in Vienna suggested that the offer was conditional, preliminary and limited to only two of the five areas that the agency's experts wished to investigate. It also accused the agency of ignoring an agreement to postpone its request to visit the secret site at Parchin until after a meeting this week of the agency's board of governors. [...]

The I.A.E.A. believes that secret military work may have been carried out at Parchin and has been pressing for access. Last month, a senior delegation from the atomic agency held its second round of talks in a month with Iranian officials in Tehran.

"During both the first and second round of discussions, the agency team requested access to the military site at Parchin. Iran did not grant permission for this visit to take place," the I.A.E.A. said at the time.

The IAEA's November report on the Iranian nuclear program asserted that Iran had "constructed a large explosives containment vessel in which to conduct hydrodynamic experiments" and installed it in Parchin in 2000. Hydrodynamic experiments, a crucial step in nuclear weapons development, are essential to determine whether a detonator design will work in practice. When agency inspectors were given access to Parchin twice in 2005, they visited "areas of interest" identified from satellite imagery, "none of which, however, included the location now believed to contain the building which houses the explosives chamber...; consequently, the Agency's visits did not uncover anything of relevance."

According to a report published Tuesday on the English-language website of Iran's semioffical Fars News Agency,

"Given the fact that Parchin is a military site and finding access to such a site is a time-consuming process and cannot be done repeatedly, and taking into account that the Agency has been asked (by Iran) to integrate all the related issues, including the hydrodynamic tests, permission will be granted for access" to Parchin (of course, only after the aforementioned demand is materialized), a statement by Iran's Representative Office at the IAEA said.

"Clearly, this process can start only when an agreement is made on the modality plan," it said, and reminded that the two sides have already agreed that the IAEA's demand for accessing Parchin be postponed until after the next meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors currently underway in Vienna.

News media reported last week that Iran had flatly refused the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) access to its Parchin military test facility, based on a statement to reporters by IAEA Deputy Director General, Herman Nackaerts, that "we could not get access".

But, explicit statements later made on the issue by the Iranian Ambassador to the IAEA and the language of the new IAEA report indicate that Iran did not reject an IAEA visit to the base per se but was only refusing access as long as no agreement had been reached with the IAEA governing the modalities of cooperation.

Based on the history of Iranian negotiations with the IAEA and its agreement to allow two separate IAEA visits to Parchin in 2005, the Parchin access issue is a bargaining chip that Iran is using to get the IAEA to moderate its demands on Iran in forging an agreement on how to resolve the years-long IAEA investigation into Iran's nuclear issue.

Copyright © 2012 Tehran Bureau

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