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Iran's response to the latest nuclear offer

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Update from AIJAC

July 9, 2008
Number 07/08 #03


Today's Update offers analysis of the ostensibly ambiguous, but actually very negative, Iranian response to the latest international offer of incentives (called the "P5+1" proposal, because its is signed by the 5 permanent UN Security Council members, plus Germany) to halt its nuclear enrichment efforts - which have been repeatedly declared illegal by the UN Security Council.

First up, an excellent analysis from the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre, BICOM, gives good details about the nature of the actual P5+1 proposal, how Iran has responded, and what this implies for efforts to resolve the nuclear stand-off diplomatically. The analysis is also good in summarising the evidence from the latest IAEA report that Iran continues to obfuscate and conceal aspects of its nuclear efforts. For all the basics about what was proposed, the Iranian response, and the implications, CLICK HERE. The actual text of the P5+1 offer to Iran is available here as a pdf.

Next up, Benny Avni, foreign affairs columnist for the New York Sun, argues that the negative Iranian response was anything but surprising. He says that many of  those who expected anything from this initiative, or continue to purport to find positive signs in the Iranian response, believe "that military or any other nondiplomatic action to halt Iran's nuclear progress is the real danger", rather than the nuclear progress itself.  He also discusses the outcomes of recent US-Israel dialogue about the possibility of military action against Iran's nuclear facilities. For his full argument, CLICK HERE.

Finally, the London Telegraph is reporting that Western diplomats believe that Iran has resumed secret efforts, halted in 2004, to build more advanced nuclear equipment via front companies. According to the report, these efforts are being concealed from IAEA inspectors, and seem likely to be linked to nuclear weapons, as opposed to nuclear power. For this additional revelation about how Iran has responded to the latest offer of economic and diplomatic carrots in exchange for ending the problematic portions of its nuclear program, CLICK HERE. The Telegraph also editorialised that Iran remains a threat to Israel's existence.

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No end in sight: Iran's latest refusal to halt uranium enrichment

BICOM Analysis, 07/07/2008

 Last Friday, Iran delivered its official response to the package of incentives presented to it by the international community. Iran announced that its position on uranium enrichment remains unchanged, effectively rejecting the international proposals to suspend its controversial uranium enrichment programme.

The proposal had been presented to the Iranians by EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana a month ago, on behalf of the US, Britain, Russia, China, France and Germany.

Iran's rejection comes amid growing evidence of Iranian obfuscation and double-dealing regarding its nuclear programme, and fears that these actions will result in a unilateral Israeli military action against Iranian nuclear facilities.

Introduction

In a development which temporarily raised hopes for the peaceful resolution of the ongoing conflict over the Iranian nuclear programme, Tehran on Friday responded to an international proposal of incentives promised in return for the suspension of Iran's controversial uranium enrichment programme. By Saturday, initial reports clarified that Iran in fact ignored the proposals and will continue its defiant uranium enrichment policy. The proposal was presented to the Iranians by EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana a month ago.[1] The offer was made on behalf of the foreign ministers of the US, Britain, Russia, China, France and Germany. Iran was offered a package of technological assistance and a series of negotiations, in return for the suspension of its uranium enrichment program.[2] Answering the proposals, Iran presented on Friday what it termed to be a "constructive and creative" response. According to the Iranian Mehr news agency, the response, signed by Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, was handed to Solana by Iran's ambassador to Brussels.[3] This analysis will look at the available information regarding the nature of the Iranian response, and will seek to assess the significance of the latest moves in the ongoing Iranian nuclear crisis.

Both Iranian and western officials initially refused to comment on the content of the Iranian letter.  However, unnamed sources suggested that the Iranian response failed to address the central demand made by the international community, namely, to halt its uranium enrichment programme.[4] Mottaki's letter, according to the report, offered to commence a comprehensive negotiating process with the six world powers who issued the proposal of incentives. However, the Iranians failed to address specifically any of the proposals or issues raised. On Saturday, the initial reports were backed by a statement made by a spokesman for the government of Iran, Gholamhossein Elham, who confirmed at a news conference that "Iran's stance has not changed (on uranium enrichment) and we are ready to hold talks on the common points of the P5+1 incentives' package."[5]

Buying time

The vagueness of the Iranian response, a combination of an apparent willingness to continue diplomacy while avoiding any of the substantive issues in question, is a familiar Iranian tactic. Since the discovery of the clandestine Iranian nuclear programme in 2003, Tehran has pursued a sophisticated stop-start policy with regards to international pressure. In the past, Tehran was willing to order a halt to the enrichment programme in response to international pressure, only to unilaterally recommence enrichment at a later date. In October 2003 the Iranian authorities suspended nuclear activities, including uranium enrichment. But then the agreement was unilaterally cancelled[6] with enrichment commencing again - since then uninterrupted - in August 2005. The decision by the Iranians to unilaterally recommence uranium enrichment led the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), following US and European pressure, to refer the Iranian nuclear case to the UN Security Council in February 2006.[7] Iranian prevarication and international attempts to induce Tehran to abandon its nuclear programme continued for another year until the final imposition of sanctions on Iran in December, 2006.[8] Two further sanctions' resolutions have since been passed.[9]

The latest contacts between the leading world powers and Iran come amid growing speculation regarding possible Israeli military action against Iranian nuclear facilities. Suspicions have been fuelled by a recent Israeli air exercise over the Mediterranean, which was described by US officials as a possible rehearsal for an Israeli operation in Iran. Israel, on its part, remains officially committed to resolving the crisis through diplomacy and stresses the international and regional threats Iran poses.[10] Analysts have speculated that the rumours of possible Israeli military action may themselves form part of a complex western diplomatic strategy, which uses the threat of a possible Israeli strike as a means to exert pressure on Iran, along with the inducements offered by the recent incentives package.

If this is indeed the nature of the strategy being pursued by the west, then the Iranian response is also clearly explainable. Foreign Minister Mottaki's letter gives the impression that the Iranian regime is open and ready to take part in a diplomatic process, while actually conceding nothing of substance. Meanwhile, on the ground, the uranium enrichment programme is continuing apace, amid growing evidence of substantial concealment by Iran of aspects of its nuclear programme - including elements with a military dimension. The US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) concluded last year that Iran had ceased its nuclear weapons drive in 2003. This in itself constituted a major finding, namely, that Iran had indeed possessed a secret nuclear weapons programme until 2003[11] at a time when the Iranians had been denying that they maintained any ambitions to manufacture nuclear weapons.

A recent IAEA report,suggests that Iran's worrying pattern of obfuscation and concealment is continuing. To fully grasp the urgency of the matter and the importance to reach viable diplomatic progress in the near future, it is worth looking more closely at the findings of this report.

The IAEA findings: Concealment, obfuscation and Iran's ongoing nuclear pursue


The IAEA report presented by IAEA Director-General Mohammad ElBaradei at the end of May, noted evidence that Iran was withholding information on high-explosives testing relating to its nuclear programme. The report, which was passed on to the UN Security Council, found that ‘"Substantive explanations are required from Iran to support its statements on the alleged studies and on other information with a possible military dimension." The report described evidence of military activities, including attempts to develop a vehicle system designed to house a new payload for the Iranian Shihab-3 missile system. The report referred to documents dating from 2004, indicating that Iran's development of ballistic weapons capable of carrying strategic weapons have been ongoing for an extended period of time.[12]

The report stated that "The agency is of the view that Iran may have additional information, in particular on high explosives testing and missile-related activities, which could shed more light on the nature of these alleged studies and which Iran should share with the agency."[13]

Alongside the suspicions of Iranian covert projects to develop the military aspects of its nuclear programme, the IAEA report also noted that Iran's uranium enrichment programme is ongoing and expanding: Tehran now has 3,500 centrifuges at its facility in Natanz. This is a small increase compared to figures published earlier this year, and the report also noted that more advanced centrifuges are being tested.

Iran announced in April that it had begun installing 6,000 new centrifuges at Natanz.[14] The IAEA then requested that Iran provide access to locations related to the manufacture of uranium centrifuges, research and development of uranium enrichment, and uranium mining and milling, in order to demonstrate the transparency and peaceful intention of these activities. The latest report notes that Iran has not acceded to this request.[15]

Subsequent intelligence reports quoted in the Daily Telegraph now accuse Iran's Revolutionary Guards of setting up a network of front companies to develop components for the advanced P2 gas centrifuge, which can enrich uranium to weapons grade, two to three times faster than conventional P1 centrifuges, which Iran claims are in exclusive use at the Natanz conversion facility. Again, western officials' have reason to be suspicious of Iran's secrecy in this regard, which appears to have no logical explanation other than a concealed attempt to advance uranium enrichment for contentious purposes.[16]

Iran is continuing to dismiss all suspicions and to maintain that its uranium enrichment programme is for the purpose of generating electricity, accusing that all reports of research into nuclear weapons systems are false and baseless. But there is an accumulating body of evidence, which the latest IAEA report supports, that Iran is not only enriching uranium, but has engaged covertly in a range of other activities, including high-explosives testing and other missile-related activities, with the intention of eventually combining all areas for the production of nuclear weapons. According to the US National Intelligence Estimate of 2007, Iran is likely to be able to produce sufficient highly enriched uranium to produce a nuclear weapon by 2010-2015.[17]. Of course, the NIE remained agnostic regarding Iranian intentions of building a nuclear weapon.[18]

Making diplomacy work

The Iranian nuclear programme is part of a broad consensus within Iran, which sees mastering nuclear power as a symbol of national pride and independence. Figures associated with a more moderate or pragmatic stance such as former President Mohammed Khatemi and former presidential candidate and chief nuclear negotiator and current Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani are as committed to it as are more obviously radical figures such as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. But from Israel's point of view, the rise within the Iranian ruling elite of a deeply ideological group associated with the Revolutionary Guards corps has increased the urgency of the issue.[19] This group, of whom President Ahmadinejad is the most prominent representative, seeks to establish Iran as the hegemonic power in the Middle East. The attaining of a nuclear weapons capability is considered to be a key element in the realisation of this ambition.

This group has also singled out Israel as their central enemy, seeking to leverage anti-Israeli sentiment in the region in order to build the popularity of the non-Arab Iranian regime across the Arab world. It is this combination - of a rising, radical elite committed to Israel's destruction, and the pursuit of nuclear weapons by the regime of which that elite is a part - which is the basis for the grave concern felt by Israel as it observes the advance of the Iranian nuclear programme.

Iran's ambiguous response to the package of incentives offered by the west, combined with the less ambiguous evidence of Iranian concealment of key aspects of the nuclear programme, suggests that the dual-track diplomacy being used by the west is not reaching its objectives. The sabre-rattling currently taking place may be seen as part of the diplomatic campaign, rather than as an alternative to it. But unless diplomacy can be found in the near future to produce a meaningful Iranian withdrawal from its nuclear ambitions - for example by complementing the diplomatic carrots on offer to Iran with the implementation of internationally agreed sanctions that really bite - the possibility of unilateral military action will become more realistic.

  [1] "Diplomats: Nothing new in Iranian response to incentives proposal," Ynetnews (http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3564098,00.html), 5 July 2008

 [2] "Iran responds to world powers' nuclear offer", Agence France Presse (http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3564098,00.html), 4 July 2008

 [3] "Official urges logical response to 5 + 1 offer," Mehr News Agency (http://www.mehrnews.com/en/NewsDetail.aspx?NewsID=710988), 4 July 2008

 [4] "Iran Nuclear position unchanged,"  BBC Online (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/7491180.stm), 5 July 2008

 [5] "Iranian Response to int'l incentive package sidesteps nuclear issue," Haaretz (http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/999066.html), 5 July 2008

 [6] Ephraim Kam, "The Iranian nuclear threat," BICOM Analysis (http://www.bicom.org.uk/background/research-and-analysis/spotlight/iran/the-iranian-nuclear-threat), 20 October 2005

 [7] Roula Khalaf, Daniel Dombey and Tobias Buck, "Israel's threat to strike makes world nervous," Financial Times (http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/a2f72732-4862-11dd-a851-000077b07658,dwp_uuid=f98b03ba-4d11-11da-ba44-0000779e2340.html), 3 July 2008

 [8] UNSC Resolution 1737, "Sanctions resolution against Iran for failure to halt Uranium enrichment," 23 December 2006, United Nations Security Council (http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2006/sc8928.doc.htm)

 [9] UNSC Resolution 1803, "Security Council tightens restrictions on Iran's proliferation-sensitive nuclear activities," 3 March 2008, United Nations Security Council (http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2008/sc9268.doc.htm)

 [10] Ibid.

 [11]  See: National Intelligence Estimate (http://www.dni.gov/press_releases/20071203_release.pdf), "Iran: nuclear intentions and capabilities," November 2007. Regarding the NIE's conclusions, a BBC report on the Iranian nuclear issue noted that "in London on 5 March 2008, a senior British diplomat said: "Many of us were surprised by how emphatic the writers [of the NIE] were... I haven't seen any intelligence that gives me even medium confidence that these programmes haven't resumed." Even the Director of US National Intelligence, Mike McConnell, appeared to backtrack on 28 February 2008, in evidence to the Senate Armed Forces Committee. In this evidence, he said that Iran had probably halted warhead design and weaponisation, but pointed out that Iran's continued enrichment of uranium meant that it was continuing with "the most difficult challenge in nuclear production." He said: "We remain concerned about Iran's intentions... Tehran at a minimum is keeping the option open to develop nuclear weapons." See: "Q&A: Iran and the nuclear issue," BBC News (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/4031603.stm) 7 July 2008

 [12] "Implementation of the NPT Safeguards agreement and relevant provisions of Security Council Resolutions 1737 (2006), 1747 (2007), and 1803 (2008) in the Islamic Republic of Iran," report by the IAEA Director-General, 28 May 2008.

 [13] Ibid.

 [14] "Iran says installing 6,000 enrichment centrifuges," Reuters (http://www.reuters.com/article/topNews/idUSLAW00006520080526?feedType=RSS&feedName=topNews&rpc=22&sp=true), 8 April 2008.

 [15] Ibid.

 [16] Con Coughlin, "Iran has resumed A-bomb project, says west," Daily Telegraph (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/iran/2259578/Iran-has-resumed-A-bomb-project,-says-West.html), 7 July 2008.

 [17] National Intelligence Estimate (http://www.dni.gov/press_releases/20071203_release.pdf), "Iran: nuclear intentions and capabilities," November 2007.

 [18] Ibid.

 [19] See Fred Halliday, "Iran's revolutionary spasm," Open Democracy (http://www.opendemocracy.net/globalization-vision_reflections/iran_2642.jsp), 1 July 2005


© 2008 - BICOM    For news tips, political nuggets, feedback and suggestions, please drop us a line at dailynews@bicom.org.uk


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Outcome of Iran Diplomacy Is Inevitable

By BENNY AVNI
New York Sun, July 7, 2008

Turtle Bay - A military attack to halt Iran's march toward a nuclear weapon may be too dangerous. Alternatives to an airstrike are being floated, but can they be effective? One thing, at least, should be abundantly clear: The West's current diplomatic strategy — offering endless incentives to Iran, hoping it will change its behavior — is little more than an exercise in self-delusion.
    
Western diplomats reportedly are "disappointed" at Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki's written response over the weekend to the most recent incentive package that the European Union foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, offered to Iran. Disappointed? The Iranian response should have been foreseeable to anyone who's been paying attention.

Reading Mr. Solana's package of benefits, Israel's Ephraim Sneh told me, "I thought it was being offered to Sweden or Norway," not a terrorist regime that has thumbed its nose at U.N. Security Council resolutions. But the mullahs will react to the new generous package as they always have, he predicted last week.

"Iran will fool the West to buy time, and the West will allow itself to be fooled," Mr. Sneh, a former deputy defense minister, said.

Sure enough, European diplomats swore that they could detect "new language" in statements from Iranian officials such as Mr. Mottaki and Ali Akbar Velayati, foreign policy adviser to the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Their statements were vague enough to raise hopes for a breakthrough. But then the nonanswer came in writing: The mullahs made it clear that they have no intention whatsoever of suspending their enrichment of uranium, as the Security Council has demanded. Instead, they offered more negotiations.

Surprised? Was any other outcome possible?

Meanwhile, some much-needed cold water is being thrown on the recent talk of a possible Israeli air attack against Iran's nuclear facilities. Nonstop barking from Jerusalem seemed to replace Israel's painful bite in recent weeks, as anonymous Israel Defense Force sources and Pentagon officials predicted an Israeli military strike before the end of President Bush's term.

But some missing pieces of data might render such an attack ineffective, the Sunday Telegraph reported yesterday. Gaps in Israeli intelligence on the precise locations and vulnerabilities of Iran's facilities emerged during recent talks between Israeli generals and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, the Telegraph reported. Such gaps could explain why Admiral Mullen cautioned last week against the opening of a "third front" in America's wars and walked back American support for an Israeli air attack.

Israel struck the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak in 1981 and reportedly demolished a Syrian facility last September, doing so without publicly commenting in advance about the nuclear sites. Constant speculation about its plans to attack Iran now — chatter that at times is derived from political needs in Washington and Jerusalem — can't be helpful for Israeli air force strategists as they chart their military course.

Even if someone like Osama bin Laden were to go berserk tomorrow and attack the Iranian nuclear facilities, America and Israel would immediately be seen as the culprits. With dependents such as Hamas in the south, Hezbollah in the north, and Syria in the east, Iran would certainly retaliate and shower Israeli cities with missiles. Attacks on U.S. Navy ships in the Persian Gulf, as well as a possible closure of the Strait of Hormuz, through which 70% of the world's oil passes, would no doubt cause considerable discomfort here, as well. The military planners need to take all that into account.

But what if they already have? In some Israeli circles, there is talk that persistent cloak-and-dagger operations could hobble Iran's nuclear program much more effectively than a spectacular one-time air strike. Somewhere on the way between, say, Beijing and Natanz, agents could replace deliveries of highly sensitive components with defective material. Such "switches" may already have occurred, according to some press reports. But an Israeli intelligence source I talked to dismissed such ideas as "James Bond stuff" that at best could be employed only once.

Still, with all these caveats in mind, few Israelis would go along with the notion, increasingly accepted in international circles, that the West should begrudgingly accept a nuclear Iran. This will be the unavoidable outcome of Mr. Solana's diplomatic charade. Many analysts, especially in Europe and at Turtle Bay, genuinely believe that military or any other nondiplomatic action to halt Iran's nuclear progress is the real danger — one that should be stopped by all available means.

If that's your primary fear, wouldn't you too hang on to the thinnest sliver of hope for diplomacy with Iran's skilled negotiators?

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Iran has resumed A-bomb project, says West

By Con Coughlin


Daily Telegraph (UK) - 07/07/2008

Iran has resumed work on constructing highly sophisticated equipment that nuclear experts say is primarily used for building atomic weapons, according to the latest intelligence reports received by Western diplomats.

The work is aimed at developing the blueprint provided by Dr AQ Khan, the "father" of Pakistan's nuclear bomb, who sold Iran details of how to build atom bombs in the early 1990s.

Iran's Revolutionary Guard, which has overall responsibility for the country's nuclear programme, has set up several civilian companies to work on the programme whose activities are being deliberately concealed from the United Nations nuclear inspection teams.

The companies, based on the outskirts of Tehran, are working on constructing components for the advanced P2 gas centrifuge, which can enrich uranium to weapons grade two to three times faster than conventional P1 centrifuges.
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Iran's controversial nuclear enrichment programme at Natanz, which Tehran insists is designed to produce fuel for nuclear power, runs on P1 centrifuges. But Iranian nuclear scientists recently conducted successful tests on a prototype P2 centrifuge at Natanz, and the Revolutionary Guard has now set up a network of companies to build components for the advanced centrifuges.

This has raised concerns among Western experts that Iran is continuing work on its nuclear weapons programme, despite Tehran’s protestations that its intentions are peaceful.

“If Iran’s nuclear intentions were peaceful there would be no need for it to undertake this work in secret,” said an official familiar with the intelligence reports.

A previous clandestine attempt by Iran to develop P2 centrifuges was halted in 2004 after the existence of a civilian company set up by the Revolutionary Guard was exposed. UN nuclear inspectors found traces of weapons-grade uranium at the company when they inspected the premises.

Reports that Iran has resumed work on sophisticated uranium enrichment technology follow Tehran’s announcement at the weekend that it has no intention of halting its uranium enrichment programme at Natanz.

Iranian officials were speaking the day after they had formally submitted their response to a package put together by the world’s leading powers – including Britain – offering a number of incentives in return for halting enrichment.

While European officials yesterday refused to disclose details of the Iranian response, one said that “it was not something that made us jump up and down for joy”.

An Iranian government spokesman said: “Iran’s stand regarding its peaceful nuclear programme has not changed.”

According to recent intelligence reports, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian President, personally ordered the Revolutionary Guard to set up companies for the secret manufacture of components for P2 centrifuges this year.

One of the companies is in a residential building in Amir Abad, western Tehran, where its work is unlikely to be detected by UN nuclear inspectors. One of the facilities is said to be run by a company owned by the Revolutionary Guard.

The operation is a direct copy of the Revolutionary Guard’s previous attempt to develop P2 centrifuges, when research work was undertaken by the Kalaye Electric Company, which claimed it was manufacturing watches.

When its true activity was revealed to UN nuclear inspectors in 2004, they found the company had succeeded in building the centrifuges and enriching small quantities of uranium to weapons grade.

Senior officials from Iran’s Atomic Energy Agency are supervising the current clandestine programme, which is based on the atomic weapons blueprint sold to Iran by Dr Khan in 1994.

Reports that Iran is actively working on Dr Khan’s blueprint will deepen suspicions that Tehran has resumed work on its nuclear weapons programme.

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