Saturday, October 24, 2009

Iran ignores deadline and takes nuclear talks to brink.

Iran have asked for more time to respond to a proposal to have its uranium enriched in Russia, saying it would prefer to give it's answer next week, rather than to adhere to the deadline set by it's most recent talks with the US.

The International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA) had given Tehran until yesterday to sign up to an agreement under which it would send its uranium to Russia and France for enrichment. As the deadline loomed, state television quoted a member of Iran's negotiating team who attended this week's talks in Vienna as saying that Tehran preferred to buy in nuclear fuel from abroad. This would fail to reduce Iran's domestic stockpile from worrying the international community, which fears it could be used for weapons.

As fears grew that the negotiations might be on the brink of collapse, the IAEA issued a statement saying that Iran had asked for more time to respond to the proposal, which had already been accepted by Washington, Paris and Moscow. "Iran informed [us] today that it is considering the proposal in depth and in a favourable light, but needs until the middle of next week to provide a response," it said.
We can only hope that Iran is playing for time and that the Iranians will eventually come around to accepting the deal.

I have long argued that there is no proof that the Iranians are seeking a nuclear weapon, but any reticence on their part to sign up to this deal would mean that they would need to be treated with the greatest suspicion.

US President Barack Obama has stepped up diplomatic engagement with the Iranian regime since coming to power, and Tehran's signature on the deal would have been seen as a major triumph for this new approach. Last night, a US State Department department spokesman said: "Obviously we would have preferred to have a response today. We approach this with a sense of urgency ... We hope that they will next week provide a positive response".

Talks were continuing last night, but Bernard Kouchner, the French Foreign Minister, said: "I cannot say the situation regarding Iran is very positive."

I have not, until now, supported measures to sanction the Iranians for doing what they are allowed to do under the NNPT, but, should Iran fail to agree to have it's uranium enriched in Russia, then I would change my mind and think that sanctions should be implemented as soon as possible.

Iran have been given every chance to prove that they have no intentions of attaining a nuclear weapon and I, certainly, have been willing to grant them the benefit of the doubt; however, should they reject this opportunity to reassure the international community of their intentions, then my position would change.

David Albright of the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security, which monitors nuclear proliferation, said: "This is a bad sign – buying nuclear fuel abroad is a complete non-starter. They seem to be looking for modifications that would fundamentally weaken the deal."

Although the IAEA's plan has not been made public, it is understood that it entails Iran shipping out 1.2 tonnes of its stockpile of 1.5 tonnes of low-enriched uranium to the IAEA. It would then be passed to Russia for refinement to 19.7 per cent purity, and then moved on to France to be turned into fuel rods.

If Tehran signs up to the deal, it would seriously handicap the country's options for manufacturing nuclear weapons, as 0.98 tonnes is the generally accepted amount of low-enriched uranium needed for a single nuclear bomb.

Iran has a chance here to completely normalise it's relations with the international community, it would be a tragedy if she were to reject it.

Let's hope that the answer given next week is the right one.

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