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Iran: Washington, Brussels Could Be Running Out Of Patience

(RFE/RL) WASHINGTON, October 9, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Recent statements by U.S. and European officials reveal a heightened sense of frustration with Iran on the nuclear issue. They want Tehran to stop all nuclear activities so multilateral talks can begin, while the Iranians want talks to begin before they cede anything. But international frustration with Iran could be misplaced, since officials in that country have made it clear that they have no plans to halt uranium enrichment.

The latest statements from Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad on October 9 signal continued intransigence. Ahmadinejad vowed to counter with Iranian sanctions -- against the international community -- if the UN Security Council tries to punish Tehran for its nuclear activities, according to AFP, which cited state media.

Iranian officials have made little secret of their desire to use the drawn-out negotiating process in order to buy time to complete nuclear projects. Iranian officials have admitted that they used earlier negotiations to wrest concessions from the Europeans.

Foreign ministers from the P+1 grouping -- China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States plus Germany -- met in London on October 6 to discuss the Iranian nuclear stalemate. British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett emerged citing "deep disappointment" that "Iran is not prepared to suspend [the] enrichment-related and reprocessing activities" as called for by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and UN Resolution 1696, AFP reported. She said a debate over possible sanctions is next, prompting Ahmadinejad's defiant counterthreat on October 9.

Iranian officials have countered a Russian overture with an offer that could well have been aimed at throwing the international community off-balance.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice warned during a visit to the West Bank on October 4 that "months of negotiations" had failed to convince Iran to suspend its enrichment activities. She said the international community's "patience" was running out, Radio Farda reported.

Rice said such patience could be traced to the Paris agreement of November 2004, and she urged Iran to act. Repeating a point that President George W. Bush has made on several occasions, Rice warned that the time has come "when the Iranians have to make their choice and the international system has to act accordingly."

The same day as Rice's comments, EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana sounded a note of frustration. Solana has held numerous meetings with Iranian officials since June, but he conceded that his "dialogue [with Iran]...cannot last forever." He said it was "up to the Iranians now to decide whether the time has come to an end." If so, Solana warned in a reference to the sanctions debate, the international community would "have to begin to follow the second track by the five [permanent] members of the [UN] Security Council," Radio Farda reported.

Holding Firm

Back in Iran, President Ahmadinejad has been standing his ground. He told an audience at Tehran University on October 1 that -- beyond resisting pressure to forego uranium enrichment -- the country intends to expand its enrichment capacity, Fars News Agency reported on October 2.

The president also said Iran hopes to install up to 100,000 centrifuges to enrich nuclear material. The president of the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) in Washington, David Albright, had predicted to Radio Farda in February that it would take 10-20 years to install even half that many centrifuges. Albright said Iranian scientists "don't even know how to put 100 [centrifuges] together and operate them successfully, let alone build that number."

Ahmadinejad suggested to a domestic audience on October 4 in Savojbolagh in Tehran Province, according to state television, that unnamed representatives of the great powers had told him that Iran could become a "role model for other nations" through major scientific advances. Ahmadinejad contended that those same representatives "explicitly said that if the Iranian nation acquires developed technologies and sciences, it [would] become the greatest world power very quickly."

Ahmadinejad also dismissed Western claims of opposition to nuclear weapons, citing the existence of weapons stockpiles in other countries and their testing of such weapons. He called the global powers' claims of backing nonproliferation lies and accused them of opposing Iran's progress. He said that if those countries were serious about nonproliferation, they "would not have armed" what he described as "fake and rootless regimes in [the] region with [nuclear] weapons."

Fomenting Division

Tehran has consistently sought to create divisions among Security Council members.

Iranian Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani and EU foreign policy chief Solana held two days of talks in Berlin on September 27-28. Larijani met separately with Russian Security Council Secretary Igor Ivanov in Tehran on October 3, again to discuss the nuclear issue.

Moscow is concerned about the Iranian nuclear issue not merely because it is a permanent member of the UN Security Council and thus a major participant in the sanctions debate. Russian engineers are building a nuclear power plant at Bushehr in southwestern Iran. Iran's vice president for atomic energy, Qolam Reza Aqazadeh-Khoi, was in Moscow in early October to warn that if the Russians do not finish the Bushehr project on time -- the scheduled commissioning date is September 2007 -- the Iranians can complete the job. Russia already intends to supply Bushehr with fuel, and it has offered a joint uranium-enrichment venture with Iran on Russian territory. Tehran has already dismissed that Russian overture.

Iranian officials have countered with an offer that could well have been aimed at throwing the international community off-balance. Mohammad Saidi, deputy director of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, said on October 3 that his country has proposed French participation in its uranium-enrichment program, France Info radio reported. Saidi said the participation of France's Areva nuclear company -- through subsidiary Eurodif -- would enable French monitoring of Iranian enrichment activities. Eurodif enriches uranium for use in roughly 100 reactors in France and abroad.

Paris appeared to reject the unexpected Iranian proposal. A French Foreign Ministry spokesman, Jean-Baptiste Mattei, said such dialogue would have to go through the European Union, AFP reported on October 3. But he also stressed that it was up to Tehran to suspend its enrichment activities. "It is on this point," Mattei said, that the international community "awaits an Iranian response." Mattei opened to the door to possible "negotiations where each party will be free to bring to the table the proposals they want" if Tehran halted enrichment.

Russia's Atomic Energy Agency head, Sergei Kiriyenko, said on October 4 that Moscow's offer to host a joint uranium-enrichment project remained on the table if Iran abandoned domestic uranium enrichment, RIA-Novosti reported. He stressed that the Russian proposal should be seen in the context of international efforts to defuse tension over Iran's nuclear ambitions.

But he cautioned Tehran against thinking it could pick and choose among aspects of international cooperation on the nuclear issue, however. Kiriyenko said the joint enrichment scheme "does not work individually -- it works only as a package...and should not be snapped out of the package like raisins teased out of a muffin."

Iran's Nuclear Program

Iran's Nuclear Program

THE COMPLETE PICTURE: RFE/RL's complete coverage of controversy surrounding Iran's nuclear program.


An annotated timeline of Iran's nuclear program.