Thursday, April 27, 2006

Iran's Nuclear Chief Meets U.N. Officials in Vienna

The Wall Street Journal:
Iran's top nuclear official held last-minute talks with senior International Atomic Energy Agency officials, including its head, Mohamed ElBaradei, Wednesday. Gholamreza Aghazadeh had been scheduled to meet with Olli Heinonen, a deputy IAEA director general in charge of Tehran's nuclear file, but a diplomat familiar with the meeting later said Mr. ElBaradei joined in for at least part of the 90-minute talks.

The diplomat cautioned against interpreting Mr. ElBaradei's presence as suggesting that the Iranians had brought anything significant to the negotiating table or anything that would alter the negative tone of an IAEA report to the United Nations Security Council.

The diplomats said the report -- to be submitted to the council and members of the IAEA's 35-nation board Friday -- was likely to be critical of Iran for defying a council request to freeze uranium enrichment and fending off requests by the U.N. nuclear watchdog to provide information meant to address suspicions that it might be seeking to make nuclear weapons.

Other diplomats and European officials told the Associated Press that the U.S. -- the chief backer of tough measures meant to gain Iranian concessions on its nuclear program -- had already asked for a Security Council meeting for next Wednesday to discuss the report and how to respond to it. READ MORE

The U.S. has publicly said it anticipates a negative report by Mr. ElBaradei.

"After the failure of the authorities in Iran to offer any additional transparency or cooperation, it's hard to imagine that the director general will be able to issue a positive report on Friday," Gregory L. Schulte, the chief U.S. delegate to the IAEA, told reporters in Berlin on Tuesday. "Indeed, the director general will have little choice but to report Iran's failure to comply with the demands of the Security Council and the IAEA board of governors."

Whatever Mr. Aghazadeh had to offer in Vienna would be unlikely to make it into the report with the publishing deadline so close, the diplomat said.

Iran offered no hints of conciliation as the report deadline approached. In a speech to workers in Tehran, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said Wednesday that if the U.S. attacked Iran, U.S. interests around the world would be harmed, state-run Tehran television reported.

Separately, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that Iran's "enemies" would not be able to use the Security Council to punish Iran.

Western concern has built since 2002 when Iran was found to be working on large-scale plans to enrich uranium, which can be used both to generate fuel or make the fissile core of nuclear weapons. Iran insists it is only interested in power, but the international increasingly fears ulterior motives.

While the IAEA has found no "smoking gun" proving Iran wants nuclear arms, a series of IAEA reports since have revealed worrying clandestine activities -- such as plutonium processing -- and documents, including drawings of how to mold weapons-grade uranium into the shape of a warhead.

Inconsistencies in Iran's enrichment activities have deepened worries and Iran's decision to end a freeze of enrichment in February led the IAEA board to report Tehran to the Security Council for noncompliance. The council then gave Iran until Friday to suspend enrichment -- something Tehran has refused to do.

The U.S., France and the United Kingdom say if Iran does not comply with an April 28 Security Council deadline to stop enrichment, they will seek to make the demand compulsory -- despite opposition from Russia and China, the other two veto-wielding council members. Moscow and Beijing share strong economic and energy interests with Tehran.

Iran deepened international concerns by announcing April 11 that it had enriched uranium with 164 centrifuges. It has informed the IAEA that it plans to install 3,000 centrifuges in the last quarter of 2006 and later 54,000 centrifuges for large-scale enrichment of uranium.

European officials told the AP that at a recent meeting in Moscow, an Iranian delegation had told Western negotiators that it was close to bringing two more so-called 164-centrifuge "cascades" into operation. While tens of thousands of centrifuges need to be running in "cascades" for full-fledged enrichment programs, experts estimate that Iran could produce enough nuclear material for one bomb if it had 1,000 centrifuges working for over a year.

One of the diplomats said the agency last week received samples of Iran's first enrichment efforts from its pilot plant in Natanz.