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Iran: Officials Put Positive Spin On IAEA Report

Soltanieh said the IAEA report demonstrated the "peaceful nature" of Iran's nuclear program (file photo) (epa) March 1, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Although the February 22 report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said Iran is not in compliance with UN demands to suspend nuclear fuel-making activities, several Iranian officials are saying the report has positive aspects and confirms that Tehran has not broken any nonproliferation rules.

Ali Asghar Soltanieh, the Iranian envoy to the IAEA, welcomed el-Baradei's report on February 23 "as evidence of the peaceful nature of Iran's program," "Kargozaran" reported.

Mohammad Saidi, a deputy head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, stressed the same day that the report stated that Iran has given "full access to [IAEA] inspectors" recently. He said el-Baradei referred in his report to the "important point" -- that Tehran has abided by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and there are no signs of "deviation" in Iran's activities.

The same point was highlighted by the government daily "Iran" on February 24, in a report headlined the "Peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear activity was stressed in el-Baradei's report." Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki also told the press on February 24 that the IAEA confirmed Iran's cooperation and added that there is no evidence of "deviation" to nonpeaceful use of in its nuclear activities, Mehr reported.

Legal Arguments

Along with highlighting positive comments in the report while ignoring the negative ones, officials have also adduced legal arguments to justify Iran's nuclear activities.

Saidi, of the Atomic Energy Organization, said on February 23 that Iran has not halted uranium enrichment -- as demanded by the UN Security Council in its December resolution -- because doing so is contrary to its "rights," and goes against the NPT (which Iran has signed), and "international laws." Saidi added that Tehran will discuss and resolve "outstanding issues" in its nuclear case if it is removed from the UN Security Council and returned to the IAEA.

Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani enlarged on that idea on February 27 by saying that the Additional Protocol to the NPT, which allows for tighter checks by UN inspectors, could be implemented again if Iran's dossier is removed from the Security Council.

Larijani referred to the report's findings that Iran has installed 3,000 centrifuges -- which spin uranium in order to enrich it -- as part of the fuel-making process, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on February 28. The centrifuges are seen as a step toward Iran's goal of industrial-scale enrichment to make nuclear fuel, an activity the international community wants stopped.

Larijani said the IAEA was informed of the centrifuge installation, so there is nothing unusual about it. "Iran is pursuing its nuclear program in line with the schedule it has given the IAEA," he said.

IAEA's Friendlier Confines

There may be a perception among some Iranian officials that the IAEA is more easily managed than the UN Security Council, and that it is staffed by politically neutral -- if not relatively friendly -- technicians and technocrats. By contrast, those officials see the UN Security Council as a place where the United States is dominant -- a waiting room of fateful happenings that are beyond Tehran's control.

Ali Larijani (right) sees positives in the IAEA report (epa file photo)

Such a perspective sees the IAEA as a "business-as-usual" kind of place, where ongoing discussion of legal clauses and technicalities -- the minutiae Iran seems to love -- gives Iran the time it believes it needs to argue its case without having to stop its program.

Saidi said on February 23 that the IAEA report indicates there are no deviations "in legal or technical terms." IAEA envoy Soltanieh said the same day that the report referred to an absence of uranium-reprocessing activity -- an early stage of fuel making -- and "this proves the serious contradictions in the Security Council resolutions that have asked Iran to suspend its reprocessing activities."

Expediency Council Chairman Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani said on February 23 that the Western powers, China, and Russia are probably preparing "tough action" following the IAEA report. His passing reference to the report indicates the other view of Iranian officials -- that such reports serve political ends -- and perhaps suggests a rejection of the actions of international community as not to be taken seriously.

Question Of Trust

Such reactions by Iranian officials show a certain contradiction in how they view the controversy over Iran's nuclear program, as well as a divergence in the nature of the dispute. There are legal and technical points at stake, as the Iranians keep saying, but the underlying issue is one of suspicion -- or rather trust.

The leaders of the international community -- namely, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council -- are suspicious of Iran's nuclear activities because they are also suspicious of "the revolution," Iranian officials often say.

So while Iranians say there is no proof of "deviation" -- or none has been found that constitutes irrefutable evidence of deviation in some hypothetical court -- their calls for unconditional talks show that they have accepted the fact that this small detail itself cannot resolve the issue to their benefit.

While Iran's nuclear dossier is both legal and technical, the contradiction is that laws and their application are not generally regarded as subject to negotiation.

Political hostility -- perhaps exemplified by Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's periodic calls for Israel's destruction -- is seen as fueling the suspicions of the international community. That leads to renewed calls for negotiations to resolve the issue.

The mixing of the legal and political issues in this controversy is illustrated by remarks that Larijani made on February 27: "Referring the dossier from a professional international [organization, the IAEA,] to a political situation [like the UN Security Council] has tied our hands for extra cooperation with the IAEA."

Withdraw Iran's nuclear dossier from the Security Council, he said, and Iran could resume implementation of the NPT's Additional Protocol, allowing closer inspections of its nuclear facilities. The protocol is well and good, he seems to say, but do us a favor first and then we might do one for you.

Afraid Of Sanctions?

Afraid Of Sanctions?
Comprehensive sanctions could further slow development in Iran's strategic oil and gas sectors (Fars)

WHAT DOES TEHRAN REALLY THINK? On August 22, Radio Farda correspondent Fatemeh Aman spoke with Alex Vatanka, Eurasia editor for Jane's Information Group, by telephone from Alexandria, Virginia. Vatanka discussed the possible impact that comprehensive sanctions could have for Iran.

Radio Farda: Some Iranian authorities are trying to create the impression that they aren't concerned about the possibility of international sanctions against it. They emphasize that what Iran has achieved so far has happened despite the sanctions already in place against it. Are they really not afraid of sanctions?

Vatanka: I think that what the Iranians are trying to do is to continue to play this balancing act. On the one hand, they are trying to say, "Look, we have done without you for 27 years; we can continue." On the other hand, if you look at every other major Iranian overture toward the U.S., obviously what they are hoping to do is remove those sanctions. It is the sanctions that have been the biggest obstacle to a genuine expansion in the Iranian economy. It is the sanctions and U.S. policies vis-a-vis Iran that have, for instance, kept Iran from joining the World Bank. It is sanctions and so on that have made the Iranian oil industry have such a tough time in bringing investment into the strategic oil and gas sectors. People like [former Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi-]Rafsanjani back in the mid 1990s even kept certain fields untouched because the idea was that U.S. companies should have those once the sanctions were lifted.
I think sanctions are quite important to the Iranians, but at the same time what they are trying to say is, "Don't assume that we are going to fall off our chair just because you mentioned the sanctions card." It is part of a kind diplomatic chess game going on by Tehran. But remember if we look and listen to Iranian reformists, this is being openly debated inside Iran. The question that is being asked of [President Mahmud Ahmadinejad and his entourage] is, "What is the ultimate objective?" Is it just Islamic independence? Is it just the ability to enrich uranium? The debate in Iran by the reformists -- and I think a lot of people would sympathize with this -- is, "What are we being sanctioned for exactly and what policies do you have to make sure that those sanctions don't hit us harder than we have already been hit?"
Remember, the big issue here is this: Iran has been sanctioned by the U.S. Iran has never faced comprehensive United Nations sanctions. The Iranian people have never suffered on a scale that the Iraqi people, for instance, suffered because of such sanctions. So it is kind of disingenuous of these senior leaders to pretend that Iran has already gone through comprehensive sanctions. Iran has not. And it will be totally different set of circumstances that will have a totally different impact on Iranian society and the economy, should the UN impose comprehensive sanctions on the country.

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


An annotated timeline of Iran's nuclear program.