IAEA talks to Iran amid saber rattling

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WASHINGTON, Feb. 21 (UPI) — Iranian and international officials are meeting this week over the country’s controversial nuclear enrichment activities but odds of progress were seen as slim.

First, Iran was unwilling to recognize the team as inspectors and instead described them as “experts”; second, despite an Iranian report the team had requested to look at a site suspected as housing nuclear facilities, the foreign ministry claimed no inspection requests had been made and none would be conducted.

The visit by the delegation from the International Atomic Energy Agency, led by IAEA Deputy Director General Herman Nackaerts, was only to lay the groundwork for future discussions with the so-called Group of 5+1 — the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany — nothing else.

“The titles of the members of the visiting delegation is not inspectors,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Ranub Mehmanparast said. “This is an expert delegation. The purpose of this visit is not inspection.

“The aim is to negotiate about cooperation between Iran and the agency and to set a framework for a continuation of talks.”

The parsing of titles, their meanings and the purpose of the talks is another wrinkle in the conundrum of Iran’s nuclear ambitions and their purpose.

Tehran says its enrichment of nuclear fuel is for peaceful purposes — generating electricity and medical research. Yet it claims it is enriching uranium at the 20 percent level, above that required for civilian reactors.

The United States, Israel and European countries say they suspect Tehran’s nuclear activities are aimed at producing nuclear weapons, suspicions not allayed by Tehran: first, it barred IAEA inspectors from some sites and not allowed interviews with some officials involved in nuclear work; clandestine nuclear facilities were discovered only after disclosure by dissident groups; and third, a report by the IAEA in November noted Iran had apparently conducted nuclear research that could only be connected with weapons development.

Iran’s acceptance of the IAEA delegation — one a month earlier left empty-handed — is apparently tied to looming imposition of economic sanctions against the country and the impact they are already having.

So, too, is its offer to resume negotiations with the Group of 5+1. Iran broke off earlier talks in January 2011.

With Europe threatening to cut off Iranian oil imports (some 20 percent of the country’s crude exports) come July, coupled with sanctions against financial transactions with Iran by the European Union and the United States, inflation in Iran is climbing by about 20 percent a month and the Iranian currency is plummeting in value.

Adding to tensions is the prospect of a pre-emptive military strike on Iranian nuclear facilities by Israel, which is within range of Iranian missiles and which Tehran repeatedly threatens to obliterate.

In that regard, Iran rattled the saber on two fronts as the visit by the IAEA team kicked off. The government announced it was immediately cutting off oil supplies to Britain and France — not waiting for them to do it themselves in July — because of their hostile attitude toward the Islamic Republic. It also announced it was keeping the option of pre-emptive action against its enemies.

“Our strategy now is that if we feel our enemies want to endanger Iran’s national interests and want to decide to do that, we will act without waiting for their actions,” said Gen. Mohammad Hejazi, a member of the country’s Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“If the Zionist regime commits a stupid action, we have a total ability to confront it.”

The threat came in a news conference announcing four days of air defense exercises in the south of the country. The exercise, Sarallah (God’s Revenge), is the latest in the past few months as tensions with Israel and the international community continue. Earlier, its navy conducted exercises near the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf, a major choke point for Middle East oil shipments.

Iran, as recently as Monday, reiterated its obtaining nuclear power is a non-negotiable right.

“Our main demand is recognition of our right to process the technology for peaceful purposes,” Mehmanparast said. “That right has been achieved, and we don’t think there is a negotiable issue regarding nuclear activities.”

Nackaerts, however, said before leaving for Tehran that the “possible military dimensions” of Iran’s nuclear activities had to be addressed and he would bring the subject up in his talks.

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