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Iran: IAEA Notes 'Significant Step' On Nuclear Crisis

Iran is continuing to install centrifuges at its Natanz nuclear facility (file photo) (ISNA) August 31, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- The IAEA says a timetable agreed with Tehran to answer questions about Iran’s nuclear program is a "significant step forward."

The statement from the UN nuclear watchdog comes in a report, made public on August 30, that evaluates Iran’s behavior since May. IAEA chief Muhammad el-Baradei is to submit the report to the agency’s board of governors in Vienna at a meeting starting September 10.

The report refers in large part to a timetable agreed between IAEA and Iranian negotiators in Tehran last week. Under that timetable, Iran agreed to answer by November most of the IAEA’s questions about its past nuclear activities.

The IAEA report welcomes that agreement, noting that "if Iran finally addresses the long-outstanding verification issues, the Agency should be in a position to reconstruct the history of Iran’s nuclear program."

Standoff Far From Over

But the report also makes it clear that these steps are still far from enough to defuse the crisis over Iran’s nuclear work.

"Iran has refused to comply with its international obligations, and as a result of that the international community is going to continue to ratchet up the pressure," the U.S. State Department said.

Significantly, the report notes: "Once Iran’s past nuclear program has been clarified, Iran would need to continue to build confidence about the scope and nature of its present and future nuclear program."

Key Western players are already making it clear that they do not regard cooperation in answering past questions as sufficient to end their calls for new UN sanctions against Iran.

U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey said on August 30 that "Iran has refused to comply with its international obligations, and as a result of that the international community is going to continue to ratchet up the pressure."

The U.S. representative to the IAEA, Ambassador Gregory Schulte, noted in a statement that the IAEA report "makes clear that Iran continues to install centrifuges at Natanz and build a heavy water research reactor at Arak."

Schulte earlier told RFE/RL in an interview on August 3 that as long as those activities continue, Washington will continue to seek a third round of sanctions from the UN Security Council.

The United States and its allies want another set of sanctions, Schulte said, "because Iran has not complied with previous Security Council resolutions that require it to suspend these activities -- like uranium enrichment and production of the heavy-water reactor at Arak -- that they don't need for civil purposes, but that countries generally believe are part of a military program."

France’s Foreign Ministry this week said that until Iran makes a clear decision about suspending its enrichment activities, Paris also will continue to look into the feasibility of further sanctions.

Opposition On Sanctions

Still, as Western powers seek further sanctions, they face reluctance from Russia and China, which would like to see the crisis resolved through the IAEA rather than the Security Council.

Possibly for this reason, Tehran has sought this week to portray the recently agreed timetable as the end to much of the conflict over its nuclear activities.

On August 28, President Mahmud Ahmadinejad declared that Iran’s "nuclear file is closed."

Shannon Kile, a senior nonproliferation expert at the Stockholm International Peace Institute in Sweden, said Iran's strategy is first to try to alleviate the international pressure it is facing.

"By committing itself to resolving all the outstanding issues, I think it helps countries such as China and Russia, which are reluctant to impose more stringent sanctions on Iran," Kile said. "It allows those countries to argue that Iran should be given more time. So to some extent, I think this is an attempt by the Iranians to deflect Security Council consideration of further sanctions over its enrichment program."

Washington, which accuses Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons, has warned that it will push for a third round of sanctions that are tougher than the current ones.

Tehran maintains that its nuclear activities are entirely peaceful and only intended to develop energy.

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.