Iran Update: Number 157March 15, 2012
- P5+1 formally agree to resume talks with Iran
- Second IAEA visit to Tehran; Agency releases latest report on nuclear programme
- Iran holds parliamentary elections; Khamenei supporters gain significant majority
- Israeli leadership visit to Washington; Netanyahu and Obama in talks
P5+1 formally agree to resume talks with Iran
In the midst of increasing Israeli pressure for military action, European Union Foreign Policy chief Catherine Ashton formally responded to an Iranian offer to resume negotiations over its nuclear programme, on behalf of the five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany. The move was in response to a letter from Saeed Jalili, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, who had written on February 14 expressing Iran’s readiness for dialogue. Ashton’s response proposed an initial round of confidence-building talks to set out an agenda on steps that would lead to a ‘sustained process of constructive dialogue’ between the parties. Despite previous rounds of failed negotiations, the mood around this latest offer is generally high. Positive indications lay in the EU’s explicit acknowledgement of Iran’s right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy, as well as Iran’s specific focus on the nuclear issue, which it has avoided in previous talks. The effort also refreshes the diplomatic path, one that has been cold for over a year.
Some European and Israeli officials have expressed their concern that Iran may be pursuing the talks to play for time for further enrichment. French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe stated his belief that Iran is ‘two-faced’ in its diplomatic efforts, pointing to the ambiguity of the ‘spectrum of issues’ Iran stated it was willing to discuss. The date and venue have to be agreed upon, though preliminary discussions between European and Iranian officials are set to take place in the next two weeks to determine such details. No formal negotiations will take place until April, after Iranian New Year Nowruz celebrations later in March.
On March 6, Iran’s IAEA Representative announced that Iran will grant the IAEA limited access to the Parchin military complex at a date yet to be determined. The site hosts research, development and production of ammunition, missiles and explosives, and in particular an explosives testing chamber believed to be relevant to nuclear weaponization, and has been a particular point of interest for the West since the publication of the IAEA’s November report. It is unclear whether an inspection will ease concerns over the facility; IAEA head Yukiya Amano recently revealed his belief that the site has been ‘sanitised’, suggesting that Iran has delayed access to the site to allow for the removal of suspect installations and contamination before granting access to the Agency. Furthermore, conflicting reports emerged regarding the offer; according to a news release, Iran’s offer was preliminary, conditional and limited to two out of five areas requested. Iran’s decision also rests upon a broader agreement on the resolution of outstanding issues which have stalled in previous negotiations.
Second IAEA visit to Tehran; Agency releases latest report on nuclear programme
Following on from a first round of talks held in late January, a delegation of IAEA officials visited Tehran for further discussions on Iran’s nuclear programme on February 20-21. The talks sought to clarify the suspected military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear activities, as outlined in the IAEA report from November, and to achieve a ‘structured’ approach for discussions acceptable to both parties. However, Agency inspectors reported that Iranian officials simply rejected all accusations and denied them access to requested documents, personnel and sites. As with the January talks, the visit was deemed a failure; Chief Inspector Herman Nackaert’s admitted that the team members were ‘unable to finalize a way forward’.
On February 24, the IAEA released its latest report on Iran’s nuclear programme, repeating previous concerns and reporting that Iran had ‘tripled’ its production of uranium enriched to 20% U235. The heavily-protected Fordow site deep within a mountainside has drawn attention from Western states and Israel, leading the Israeli leadership to refer to an approaching ‘Zone of Immunity’ – when Israel would be unable to destroy sensitive Iranian facilities there by military attack. The IAEA reported on their examination of spent fuel bays that indicated the fuel plates and fuel rods were being manufactured to fuel the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR), as Iran stated they would be used. Furthermore, despite the introduction of newer centrifuge models, the Agency’s concerns over increased uranium enrichment were mitigated by the fact that not all of Iran’s next-generation centrifuges are functioning properly. Nonetheless, the Agency was unable to confirm that all Iran’s nuclear activities were solely for peaceful purposes.