Meeting Yields No Progress on Curbing Iran Nuclear Bid
Nazila Fathi and David Sanger, The New York Times:
A one-day trip to Iran by the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, ended Thursday night with no agreement by the Iranians to halt their production of enriched uranium. And European diplomats said Iran had shown inspectors evidence that they were preparing to double the size of their small-scale production facilities within weeks.
Before Dr. ElBaradei's arrival, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran issued a taunt meant to erase any doubts about whether Iran was determined to plunge ahead with its fuel-making facilities in defiance of a warning from the United Nations.
"Our answer to those who are angry about Iran obtaining the full nuclear cycle is one phrase. We say, be angry and die of this anger," he said late on Wednesday, the official IRNA news agency reported. He left the job of meeting with Dr. ElBaradei to lower-ranking officials. For the first time, Mr. Ahmadinejad also boasted that Iran was conducting what he called "research" on a next-generation of centrifuges, called the P-2, based on a Pakistani design.
Until now, Iran has rebuffed most questions from the atomic energy agency about what kind of information concerning the advanced centrifuges that it had obtained from the illicit nuclear network run by Abdul Qadeer Khan of Pakistan. Mr. Ahmadinejad made no estimate of when the more advanced equipment — which would enrich uranium several times faster than the equipment Iran has just put into operation — might be tested or installed.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, speaking at the State Department on Thursday, said that "when the Security Council reconvenes, there will have to be some consequence" for Iran's decision to defy the calls for a suspension of fuel production, "and we will look at the full range of options available."
During his speech, Mr. Ahmadinejad uncharacteristically acknowledged differences inside Iran over the leadership's decision to confront the West, Russia and China by surging forward with the production of fuel that could be used for nuclear power plants or, at a greater level of enrichment, for nuclear weapons.
"There are some coward elements who are trying to create difference among people," the student-run ISNA agency quoted him as saying. "They get together, talk and create propaganda and psychological war. But we laugh at them. They call us and say that crisis is on the way, but we believe that the enemy has a crisis and we have no crisis in our country. Our people are brave."
But in Washington, Iran's efforts to create the impression that it was speeding ahead to make its nuclear program a fait accompli was countered by intelligence officials.
At a briefing on Thursday, Thomas Fingar, deputy director of national intelligence for analysis, said the official view of the intelligence agencies remained that Iran was unlikely to have nuclear weapons before 2010 at the earliest. But he also acknowledged that the mistakes made in assessing Iraq's capabilities had made the intelligence agencies far more cautious about delivering definitive assessments to President Bush.
But on Iran's progress toward nuclear weapons, he said, there has been virtually no dissent. "Certainly none that has surfaced," he said, "and this is a question we revisit all the time."
Another official at the briefing, Kenneth Brill, director of the National Counterproliferation Center, cautioned against accepting at face value Iran's recent claims about producing enriched uranium and its plans for producing more than 50,000 centrifuges, enough to produce fuel for several weapons a year. "They've made a statement, but it's still to be determined what is actually happening," he said.
At the same time, asked whether some part of Iran's program might remain hidden from American spies and satellites, he said, "That's an issue we work on quite hard."
European diplomats familiar with what Iran has told inspectors in recent days say that the country has already largely built a second "cascade" of 164 centrifuges, matching the one that is already in operation. The inspectors have not yet verified Iran's claims this week that it is already producing low-enriched uranium suitable for power plants, but officials from the atomic energy agency are to examine the current operations during a visit next week, the diplomats said.
Upon his arrival, Dr. ElBaradei told reporters he hoped he could "convince Iran to take confidence-building measures, including suspension of uranium enrichment activities, until outstanding issues are clarified." He met with the head of Iran's Atomic Organization, Gholamreza Aghazadeh, and Ali Larijani, Iran's chief nuclear negotiator. A diplomat who had been briefed on the meeting said Dr. ElBaradei had told them, in essence, that "you have achieved your goal, and this would be a good time to pause, and allow negotiations to restart."
"There wasn't a rejection of this, or an embrace of this," the diplomat said. "They are very aware that he will be writing a report two weeks from now" to the United Nations Security Council, where the United States has indicated it will press for escalated action against Iran. READ MORE
Iran's nuclear boasts were the centerpiece of editorials in the Arab media on Thursday. Most commentators raised fears that Iran's acts could spur a nuclear race in the region while they lamented the relative weakness of Arab governments, which have mostly viewed Iran's ambitions as an immediate threat.
"Congratulations to Iran for what it has achieved and accomplished in extremely difficult regional and international conditions. Congratulations to its leaders and religious authorities upon whom some of our modernist leaders have looked down with such condescension," the columnist Urayb al-Rintawi wrote in the Jordanian daily Al Dustour. "Iran has bid farewell, perhaps for the last time, to the club of the Earth's weak and oppressed."
But most Arab governments have remained silent, a change from the signals that some were sending a few months ago that they might support international action against Iran.
"They're terrified. When you speak to someone for the first few minutes they're speechless," said Riad Kahwaji, managing director of the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis in Dubai, speaking of Arab officials in recent days. "You now have two evils to choose from: do you live with a nuclear Iran, or do you trust the U.S. administration in launching a war with Iran, despite the whole debacle in Iraq?"
Nazila Fathi reported from Tehran for this article, and David E. Sanger from Washington. Scott Shane contributed reporting from Washington, and Hassan M. Fattah from Dubai.