Friday, February 22, 2013

Eye on Iran: Iran Is Said to Move to New Machines for Making Nuclear Fuel

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NYT: "Just days before Iran enters its first nuclear talks with the West since the summer, international nuclear inspectors said Thursday that the country has begun installing a new generation of equipment that should give it the ability to produce nuclear fuel much faster. The installation - at Iran's main plant for uranium enrichment, located in the desert at Natanz - came after a half-decade of delays exacerbated by Western sanctions and sabotage. The new centrifuges are four to five times more powerful than an aging model that Iran has used for years. The advance has worried American, European and Israeli officials because it would make it easier for Iran to race toward making fuel for nuclear weapons, if it decided to do so.  Victoria Nuland, the State Department spokeswoman, called the installation of the advanced machines 'yet another provocative step' and 'a further escalation' in Iran's continuing violation of the United Nations demand that Tehran suspend its program of uranium enrichment. But even as Iran installed the more powerful equipment, evidence collected by the International Atomic Energy Agency suggests that the Iranian authorities are deliberately slowing the accumulation of the medium-enriched uranium that could most quickly be converted to bomb fuel. According to a new report by the agency, much of that production has been diverted to make specialized fuel for a research reactor. The new report says Iran has diverted about 40 percent of its growing stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium into an oxide form that can be used to make fuel for a research reactor in Tehran. So far, the report said, Iran used the collected material to produce at least five fuel assemblies."

WSJ: "The U.S. is moving to raise the stakes of international talks next week in Kazakhstan, seeking to hold a one-on-one meeting with Tehran in a bid to accelerate nuclear diplomacy ahead of Iran's presidential elections in June, according to American officials. U.S. diplomats are skeptical Tehran will accept their offer to meet in Almaty as Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's ultimate arbiter on foreign relations, has come out strongly in recent weeks against any direct dialogue between Tehran and Washington... Still, U.S. and European officials said they believe Washington's overtures are creating fissures within Iran's political elite as the June presidential vote looms. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who can't run for a new term, and Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi both have publicly indicated an openness to meet directly with the Americans. Even if Tehran ultimately turns down the U.S. offer, Obama administration and European officials believe, pressure on Mr. Khamenei inside Iran and internationally could increase if he is seen as the main impediment to progress in the diplomacy over Iran's nuclear program. 'If Iran says yes, that would be great,' said a European diplomat working on Iran. 'If not, we think they'll be more isolated.'"

Reuters: "Preoccupied with an intensifying domestic power struggle, Iran is unlikely to agree with world powers next week on ways out of a nuclear dispute: Surviving a turbulent period of pre-electoral infighting will be the priority for its faction-ridden elite. Despite eye-catching suggestions among Iranian policymakers that a more imaginative approach is needed to engagement with its Western adversaries, Iran's electoral calendar may pre-ordain several more months of stasis in the nuclear negotiations set to resume in Almaty, Kazakhstan on Tuesday. With a presidential election looming in June, the latest round of negotiations, at which world powers will offer relief from some sanctions if Iran curbs activities of potential use in yielding a nuclear weapon, may amount to little more than 'holding talks' to at least keep the diplomatic door open. 'Iran is in listening mode. They'll go back to Tehran and look at the offer,' said a Western diplomat based in Tehran. 'But they're unlikely to discuss issues in depth until the insecurity in the domestic power struggle has been clarified.'"
MTN BannerNuclear Program

Reuters: "Iran appears to be advancing in its construction of a research reactor Western experts say could offer the Islamic state a second way of producing material for a nuclear bomb, if it decided to embark on such a course, a U.N. report showed. Iran has almost completed installation of cooling and moderator circuit piping in the heavy water plant near the town of Arak, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in a confidential report issued to member states late on Thursday. Nuclear analysts say this type of reactor could yield plutonium for nuclear arms if the spent fuel is reprocessed, something Iran has said it has no intention of doing. Iran has said it 'does not have reprocessing activities', the IAEA said."


Reuters: "U.S. lawmakers are crafting a bill designed to stop the European Central Bank from handling business from the Iranian government, a congressional aide said on Thursday, an attempt to keep Tehran from using euros to develop its nuclear program. The bill, in the early stages of drafting, would target the ECB's cross-border payment system and impose U.S. economic penalties on entities that use the European Central Bank to do business with Iran's government, the aide said on condition of anonymity... The European Central Bank's so-called Target2 system is used to settle cross-border payments in Europe and processes around 350,000 payments daily, according to the most recent figures made available. Although the ECB already complies with European Union sanctions against Iran, the proposed bill is aimed at pressing Europe to do more to prevent Iranian firms and banks from using the Target2 system to conduct transactions involving euros."

WSJ: "South Korea imported 5.896 million barrels of Iranian crude oil in January, a 16.1% drop from a year earlier, preliminary data from the state-run Korea National Oil Corp. showed Friday. Monthly crude imports from the Islamic Republic will likely continue to record on-year declines over the next few months as South Korea wants to extend an exemption from full compliance with U.S. sanctions targeting Tehran's oil exports... South Korea's imports of Iranian crude were about 190,200 barrels a day in January, up from 184,600 barrels a day in December, according to the data. South Korea relied on Iran for 7.2% of its crude needs in January compared with 8.9% a year earlier, the data showed. Before last year, it met around a 10th of its crude needs from Iran."


"In a little-noticed trial in a small courtroom here on Wednesday, a 24-year-old man provided a rare look inside a covert global war between Israel and Iran, admitting that he is an operative of the militant group Hezbollah, for which he acted as a courier in Europe and staked out locations in this port city that Israelis were known to frequent. Breaking with the group's ironclad discipline and practiced secrecy, the operative, Hossam Taleb Yaacoub, described being handled by a masked man he knew only as Ayman. He told of doing simple tasks at first: picking up a couple of bags in Lyon, France, taking a cellphone, two SIM cards and a mysterious package wrapped in newspaper from Amsterdam to Lebanon. When he was arrested last July, he had a small red notebook with the license plate numbers of two buses ferrying Israelis to vacation spots in the vicinity."

Reuters: "Argentina's Senate approved on Thursday an agreement with Iran to set up an international 'truth commission' to investigate the 1994 bombing of a Jewish center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people. The two governments reached the agreement last month on how to deal with the attack in which Argentine court authorities have accused Iranian officials, including the defense minister, of involvement. Iran has denied any link to the bombing. Many Jewish groups in Argentina and abroad reject the accord, saying it gives credibility to Iran at a time when the United States is leading efforts to isolate the country over its disputed nuclear program. Critics also say it is unconstitutional for the executive branch to get involved in judicial matters and that the international commission's findings could hurt Argentina's court case."

Reuters: "Iran denied on Friday Nigerian allegations that it had trained militants arrested in Nigeria on charges of planning attacks on U.S. and Israeli targets there. Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said such allegations were 'made up as the result of the ill will of the enemies of the two countries' good relations', Iranian state television reported. 'Iran and Nigeria have friendly and close relations and despite the vast efforts of the two countries' enemies in recent years relations and cooperations have always improved,' he said. Nigeria's secret service said on Thursday it had arrested Abdullahi Mustapha Berende and two other Nigerians in December after Berende made several suspicious trips to Iran, where he interacted with Iranians in a 'high-profile terrorist network.'"

Human Rights

"Staff at the BBC's Persian service face satellite jamming, smear campaigns and intimidation, says Peter Horrocks, director of the BBC World Service. In an article for Index on Censorship, he reveals that Iran's interference with the BBC's signals started in 2009 at the time of Iran's presidential election. Jamming began on election day and continued in the aftermath of the election during the street protests. Since then, he writes, the jamming of BBC Persian has continued intermittently. Two weeks ago, on 9 February, during the Iranian government's anniversary celebrations of the Islamic Revolution, Persian TV was taken off the air in company with 13 other broadcasters."

Opinion & Analysis

FT Editorial Board: "For much of this week, western governments fearing the spread of atomic weapons have had their eyes firmly fixed on North Korea, which has just conducted its third underground nuclear test. But in the next few days, attention will turn back to the other nuclear pariah state, Iran. On February 26 Iran will meet six world powers in Kazakhstan, resuming attempts to broker a deal that allays western fears that the Iranians are seeking a nuclear bomb. Immediate success is unlikely. Still, this will be yet another moment for the world to assess whether diplomacy has any chance of success. As they prepare to meet Iran in the city of Almaty, it is hard to fault the efforts by the US and its allies to strike a deal. President Barack Obama has said the US is prepared to hold bilateral talks with Iran to boost the chance of success, an offer recently repeated by Joe Biden, vice-president. In Kazakhstan, meanwhile, the US and its allies will make a more generous offer to Iran than they did last year, widening the list of sanctions that they would reverse if Iran also halts troubling features of its nuclear programme. However, Iran is proving unbudgeable. Despite crippling sanctions, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, supreme leader, has rejected the US offer of talks. On Thursday Iran flatly ruled out helping the International Atomic Energy Agency's investigation into military dimensions of its nuclear programme. Meanwhile, the regime is building up production capacity at its Natanz uranium enrichment plant, putting it in a better position for a sudden dash to the bomb at some later date."

David Ignatius in WashPost: "Mohammad Khazaee, Iran's ambassador to the United Nations, took questions this week at an unusual forum hosted by the Asia Society. Critics argued that the forum was simply an opportunity for Iranian propaganda, but as moderator of the discussion, I thought it made an important, if somewhat discouraging, point: There isn't yet sufficient trust on either side for a broad agreement. The discussion took place a week before the next negotiating session between Iran and the P5+1 group of nations, scheduled for Feb. 26 in Kazakhstan. Khazaee's stance might be described as forthrightly ambiguous. That is, he suggested a deal can be imagined in principle but cautioned that the environment isn't conducive for making it happen in practice. For example, when I asked whether Iran was ready to endorse a framework for resolving the nuclear issue that might involve caps on Iranian enrichment and export of existing stockpiles of enriched material, Khazaee answered 'yes and no,' and then explained what he meant. The 'yes' part was that Iran was prepared to be flexible on such details as the level at which it enriched uranium and the size of the stockpile it maintained, so long as its basic right to enrichment was recognized. But the 'no' involved the atmosphere in which such an agreement might be reached. 'The point is ... the mistrust that exists between the two countries. As soon as one side says something ... [the other side] says there is a hidden agenda.' ... It's always useful when officials answer questions in a public forum, and I suspect that many in the audience came away encouraged that progress can be made in the negotiations. But Khazaee is a diplomat, and as his boss, the supreme leader, said bluntly in his statement last week: 'I'm not a diplomat, I'm a revolutionary.' The problem is that it's hard to negotiate agreements with revolutionaries. That may be especially true if they feel there is a gun pointed at their head. A diplomat might compromise, but a revolutionary could well say: Go ahead, pull the trigger."

David Albright, Christina Walrond, Andrea Stricker & Robert Avagyan in ISIS: "The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released on February 21, 2013 its latest report on the implementation of NPT safeguards in Iran and the status of Iran's compliance with Security Council resolutions.

Key Findings:

1) Number of installed centrifuges at Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP) increases substantially;
2) IR-1 centrifuge installation is occurring at a faster than expected rate at Natanz FEP;
3) New IR-2m advanced centrifuges are being installed at Natanz, although when they will start enriching or how well they will operate remains unknown;
4) Number of cascades producing near 20 percent low enriched uranium (LEU) is constant;
5) Iran has less than enough 20 percent low enriched uranium hexafluoride for one nuclear weapon, if further enriched to weapon-grade;
6) Almost all of the cascades at Fordow are now vacuum tested and likely ready for enrichment;
7) Iran resumes converting near 20 percent LEU hexafluoride to oxide form;
8) Iran will use the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR) to test IR-40 Arak reactor fuel; continued construction of the IR-40 reactor is in violation of UNSC resolutions; and
9) No progress on 'structured approach' to resolve outstanding questions about military dimensions and no access to Parchin, which Iran continues to sanitize."

Eye on Iran is a periodic news summary from United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) a program of the American Coalition Against Nuclear Iran, Inc., a tax-exempt organization under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Eye on Iran is not intended as a comprehensive media clips summary but rather a selection of media elements with discreet analysis in a PDA friendly format. For more information please email

United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) is a non-partisan, broad-based coalition that is united in a commitment to prevent Iran from fulfilling its ambition to become a regional super-power possessing nuclear weapons.  UANI is an issue-based coalition in which each coalition member will have its own interests as well as the collective goal of advancing an Iran free of nuclear weapons.

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