November 19, 2009
Showing impatience with Iranian foot-dragging, President Barack Obama said Thursday that the U.S. and its allies are discussing possible new penalties against Iran for defying international attempts to halt its contested nuclear program.
Obama's warning came after Iran rejected a compromise proposal to ship its low-enriched uranium abroad so that it could not be further enriched to make weapons. Talk of fresh sanctions also showed that Obama is preparing for the next phase should Iran fail to meet his year-end deadline for progress in negotiations.
"They have been unable to get to `yes', and so as a consequence, we have begun discussions with our international partners about the importance of having consequences," Obama said at a news conference with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak.The U.S. is meeting in Brussels on Friday with five other nations -- Britain, China, France, Russia and Germany -- to discuss what measures could be used against Iran, according to an EU official who spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to disclose details of the gathering.
"Our expectation is, is that over the next several weeks we will be developing a package of potential steps that we could take that will indicate our seriousness to Iran."
The tough talk on Iran came as Obama wrapped up an eight-day, four-nation tour of Asia in which global issues -- nuclear disarmament, climate change, economic recovery -- dominated and goodwill abounded. There also were few new agreements on pending issues...
In talking tough about possible sanctions on Iran for its nuclear program, Obama left open the option that diplomacy could still work.
"I continue to hold out the prospect that they may decide to walk through this door" and accept the proposal to ship its low-enriched uranium out of the country, Obama said.A senior administration official later said Obama was purposely vague on more diplomacy so as not to undermine the search for international consensus that remains in an embryonic phase. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the president's thinking.
Possible sanctions are likely to take months to enact, if the difficulties in crafting this year's U.N. sanctions on North Korea are any indication. China, always reluctant to support sanctions, offered no public assurances that it would agree to punish Iran. As for Russia, whose support also would be vital, White House official Mike McFaul said days ago that the U.S. is "exactly on the same page with the Russians" in exploring diplomacy and consequences.
South Korea gave Obama one of the warmest welcomes during the trip. Crowds lined the motorcade route; some shouted "Obama." After the news conference, Obama and Lee hugged, an unusual gesture in a region noted for its formality.
The only off-note was on the pending free trade agreement, stuck in part because U.S. lawmakers worry it could hurt the struggling American auto industry. Obama said he was committed to completing a deal and that teams from both countries were trying to resolve sticking points.
Lee said the pact was not only economic but strategic -- suggesting an agreement would further cement the U.S.-South Korean alliance. He urged political will to complete it.
November 20, 2009
...The Russian government insisted that there was still "every chance" of reaching a deal with Iran on enrichment, and denied that it had been discussing further sanctions with Washington.
"As far as we know, there has so far been no final official answer from Tehran," Russian foreign ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko said in a statement. "It is important to let diplomacy work, and superfluous emotions only harm the situation."During Mr Obama's recent visit to China he received no assurances that it would support new sanctions against Iran at the UN Security Council. France and the UK want Iran to accept the deal.
"There is currently no discussion on working out additional sanctions against Iran at the UN Security Council," he added.
November 18, 2009
Iran will not ship its low-enriched uranium out of the country for processing, its foreign minister said Wednesday, once again rejecting a U.N. plan aimed at thwarting any attempt by Tehran to make nuclear weapons.
Instead, Foreign Minister Manochehr Mottaki countered with a proposal certain to fall short of Western demands.
The United Nations last month offered a deal to take 70 percent of Iran's low-enriched uranium to reduce its stockpile of material that could be enriched to a higher level, and possibly be used to make nuclear weapons.
That uranium would be returned about a year later as refined fuel rods, which can power reactors but cannot be readily turned into weapons-grade material. Iran maintains its nuclear protgram is only for the peaceful purpose of generating energy.
"We will definitely not send our 3.5-percent enriched uranium out of the country," Mottaki told the semiofficial ISNA news agency. But he added: "That means a simultaneous fuel swap could be considered inside Iran."The counterproposal was an indication of Iran's unwillingness to trust the West with its fuel for the time needed to transform it into the more harmless fuel rods.
Mottaki said that Iranian experts were looking at the modified proposal to determine what amounts of uranium should be exchanged for fuel rods.
However it remained unclear what would happen with Iran's uranium, if it would be shipped out of the country as part of the trade or remain inside Iran.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Ian C. Kelly said the U.S. was waiting for Iran to submit its formal response to the International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA.
"What was said today doesn't inspire our confidence" that Iran will accept the proposal that was tentatively agreed to in Geneva.President Barack Obama said during a visit to China on Tuesday that there would be repercussions if Iran rejected the latest plan.
The idea of Tehran shipping uranium for further enrichment was first raised at a landmark meeting with the U.S. and other world powers at the beginning of October in Geneva. At the time, Iran also agreed to inspections after the disclosure of a once-secret uranium enrichment facility plant known as Fordo, near the holy city of Qom.
Kelly said the U.S. was still consulting with its negotiating partners on a way forward. At some point, he said, the focus would turn to ways of increasing sanctions pressure on Iran, adding:
"We're not quite at that point now. But time is short."Under the U.N. proposal, Iran would export its uranium, which is enriched at less than 5 percent - enough to produce fuel to burn in plants. Enriching uranium to much higher levels can produce weapons-grade material.
In exchange, the Iranian uranium would be further enriched in Russia and then be sent to France. Once there, it would be converted into fuel rods, which would be returned to Iran.
The amount of uranium that would be exported by Iran under the U.N. plan, about 1.2 tons (1,100 kilograms), represents about 70 percent of its stockpile. It would have been sent to Russia in one batch by the end of the year, easing concerns the material would be used for a weapon.
Around 2,200 pounds of low-enriched uranium is needed to produce enough weapons-grade uranium for a single nuclear warhead, according to experts. Iran is believed to have well over that amount of low-enriched uranium in its stockpiles.
Mottaki's proposal indicated that Iran was open to further negotiation when he dismissed a comment by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton that the U.N. plan was its only choice.
"Diplomacy is not all or nothing. Mrs. Clinton's comments that Iran must accept only this proposal is not diplomatic," he said.The U.S. and its allies see the export process as buying time to reach a compromise with Iran by depriving it of the amount of uranium needed to potentially make a nuclear bomb. Western powers believe Iran is seeking nuclear weapons, or at least the ability to produce them on short notice.
IAEA inspectors visited Fordo last month.
The heavily fortified and bunker-like uranium enrichment facility has further heightened Western suspicions about the extent and intent of Iran's nuclear program.
Ali Asghar Soltanieh, chief Iranian delegate to the IAEA, said that Fordo looked the way it was because uranium enrichment will "not be stopped by military attack - that is the political message of this site."
He added that "the important message is ... enrichment in Iran will continue at any price."Iran says the facility was fortified to protect it against any possible attack by the U.S. or Israel.
Officials say the plant won't be operational for another 18 months and would produce uranium enrichment levels up to 5 percent, suitable only for peaceful purposes. Weapons-grade material is more than 90 percent enriched.
November 16, 2009
Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Monday the "enemies" of his country's nuclear programme had been defeated ahead of the release of the latest UN report on the atomic drive.
International attention focused on the report as US President Barack Obama said "time is running out" for Iran to respond to a UN plan aiming to ease international fears that the Islamic Republic is working on a nuclear bomb.
Russia, meanwhile, announced that a controversial nuclear power plant it is building in Iran will not start operations by the end of 2009 as previously announced.
Ahmadinejad said the West would have to come to terms with Iran's nuclear progress, Iran's state broadcaster quoted the president as saying on his website.
"Enemies have politicised the nuclear issue using all of their abilities to try to make the Iranian nation surrender, but they have been defeated," Ahmadinejad said.Nuclear cooperation with Iran is "beneficial to the Westerners because their opposition to it will make Iran stronger and more advanced," he added insisting that Iran's nuclear rights are "non-negotiable" and the research was being pursued "entirely under International Atomic Energy Agency supervision."
The IAEA sent its new report, having stated several times that Iran is not cooperating with UN Security Council demands, backed by three rounds of sanctions, that it halt uranium enrichment.
The new report will also give details of an October visit to an atomic site at Qom, that Iran had until recently kept secret.
Obama on Sunday won the strongest backing yet from Russian President Dmitry Medvedev over international frustration at Iran's failure to answer an offer to enrich uranium outside of Iran.
"Unfortunately, so far at least, Iran has been unable to say yes" to the proposal, Obama said after talks with Medvedev in Singapore. "We now are running out of time with respect to that approach."Russia, which has the strongest ties with Tehran of any big power, has traditionally been unwilling to punish Iran with tough measures. But Medvedev said that Tehran risked sanctions if the crisis continued.
He said Moscow was "not completely happy about the pace" of efforts to resolve the crisis.
"In case we fail, the other options remain on the table, in order to move the process in a different direction," he said in a reference to new UN sanctions against Tehran.Russia's Energy Minister Sergei Shmatko said that the Bushehr nuclear plant would not now be ready this year, Russian news agencies reported. Shmatko insisted the delay was technical and the project would still go forward.
Russia, like the United States, is a veto-wielding UN Security Council permanent member, and its support is crucial if US warnings of tough sanctions are to carry weight.
Obama described as "fair" the proposal offered to Iran, which would see Russia lead an international consortium helping Tehran to further enrich uranium for a research reactor.
Referring to sanctions, he said that "we will begin to discuss and prepare for these other pathways" as Tehran could not be counted on to fulfil its international obligations.
The West suspects Tehran is trying to develop a nuclear weapon under cover of its civilian nuclear energy programme. Iran vehemently denies the claims while Russia has said there is no evidence to support the accusations.
IAEA Secretary General Mohamed ElBaradei, whose mandate finishes this month, is to chair his last board of governor's meeting on November 26, during which the new report will be discussed.