Iran Agrees to UN Probe & Matches US by Sending Ships to Patrol near US
February 10, 2014
Al Jazeera Americ
In a significant move, Iran agreed Sunday to provide additional information sought by the UN nuclear agency in its long-stalled probe of suspicions that Tehran may have worked on nuclear weapons. Iran insists it never wanted or tried to develop such arms. And, in other news, an Iranian naval officer has announced a number of warships have been ordered to approach US maritime borders -- as a response to the stationing of American vessels in the Gulf.
Iran Agrees to Address UN Nuke Probe
Al Jazeera America
(February 9, 2014) -- In a significant move, Iran agreed Sunday to provide additional information sought by the U.N. nuclear agency in its long-stalled probe of suspicions that Tehran may have worked on nuclear weapons.
Iran insists it never wanted or tried to develop such arms, and the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was pushing ahead with its investigation with expectations that Tehran would continue to assert that all of its activities it is ready to reveal were meant for peaceful nuclear use.
Still, the IAEA's announcement that Tehran was ready to "provide information and explanations" for experiments in a type of detonator that the agency says could be used to trigger a nuclear explosion appeared to be the latest indication that Iran's new political leadership is seeking to ease tensions over its nuclear program.
The development -- although limited for now -- marked a step forward in an international push to settle a decade-old dispute over Iran's nuclear program. Tehran says this is peaceful, while the West fears that Iran wants to develop atomic arms.
The deal could also send a positive signal to separate, high-stakes negotiations between Iran and six world powers which are due to start on Feb. 18 in Vienna, aimed at reaching a broader diplomatic settlement with the Islamic state after last month's interim accord was struck.
The IAEA mentioned its concerns about detonator development three years ago as part of a list of activities it said could indicate that Tehran had secretly worked on nuclear weapons. The technology had "limited civilian and conventional military applications," it said back then, adding: "given their possible application in a nuclear explosive device ... Iran development of such detonators and equipment is a matter of concern."
The detonator issue was not on top of the list of the 2011 IAEA report of possible nuclear weapons concerns, with the agency mentioning other suspected activities that it said appeared to have had no civilian applications.
As the two sides met over the weekend in Tehran, diplomats said that Iran now was ready to address agency questions about its suspected nuclear weapons work after years of dismissing the issue.
But they also said that the process would get underway only slowly. The fact that the Iranians were ready to engage on the detonator issue first reflected caution by both sides after more than six years of stalemate on the probe, with the agency focused on a step-by-step approach, starting with less sensitive issues and progressing to the arms-related queries.
The process began after the two sides reached an agreement three months ago that gave the agency access to several previously off-limit sites not directly linked to any suspected weapons activities.
An IAEA statement Sunday said Iran had complied with the first steps of that deal and both sides on the weekend signed off on an additional "seven practical measures." Beyond the detonator experiments, they included Iranian agreement to provide "mutually agreed relevant information" on a site where Tehran experimented with laser uranium enrichment as well as a visit to the site where such work took place.
Iranian experts abandoned the experiments years ago and opted instead to develop their centrifuge-based enrichment program. The IAEA reported in 2008 that the laser facilities had been taken over by a private company that said it had no plans to enrich uranium.
Three years later, however, then-Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad asserted that Iran still possessed uranium laser enrichment technology -- a claim that the IAEA has not been able to prove or disprove.
While uranium enrichment is not directly linked to the IAEA's weapons probe, any hidden enrichment work would be a key worry for the United States and its allies. Iran says it is enriching only to make reactor fuel, but uranium enriched to weapons-grade levels is used as the payload of nuclear missiles.
Washington and five other world powers meet Feb. 18 in Vienna to work to turn the an initial agreement into a permanent pact curbing Iran's uranium enrichment in exchange for sanctions relief. Both sides say those talks are off to a promising start, but the US and its allies also are looking to the IAEA-Iran meetings for additional signals from Iran's new political leadership.
Iran Says Warships Will Approach US Maritime Border
Al Jazeera America
(February 9, 2014) -- An Iranian naval officer said a number of warships have been ordered to approach US maritime borders as a response to the stationing of American vessels in the Gulf, the semi-official Fars news agency reported.
The move could be seen as an attempt by the government to appease hard-liners as the country tries to forge closer diplomatic ties with the United States and the West, analysts said. Iran is currently meeting with the U.N. nuclear agency to discuss the country's nuclear program.
"Iran's military fleet is approaching the United States' maritime borders, and this move has a message," the agency quoted Admiral Afshin Rezayee Haddad as saying.
Haddad, described as commander of the Iranian navy's northern fleet, said the vessels had started their voyage toward the Atlantic Ocean via "waters near South Africa," Fars reported.
Fars said the plan was part of "Iran's response to Washington's beefed up naval presence in the Persian Gulf."
The Fars report, which carried no details of the vessels, could not be confirmed independently.
In Washington, a US defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, cast doubt on any claims that the Iranian ships were approaching US maritime borders. The official added that "ships are free to operate in international waters."
The US and its allies routinely stage naval exercises in the Gulf, saying they want to ensure freedom of navigation in the waterway through which 40 percent of the world's seaborne oil exports pass.
US military facilities in the region include a base for its Fifth Fleet in Bahrain.
Iran sees the Gulf as its own backyard, and believes it has a legitimate interest in expanding its influence there.
Iranian officials have often said Iran could block the Strait of Hormuz, at the mouth of the Gulf, if the country came under military attack over its disputed nuclear program. The Western war games are widely seen in the region as an attempt to deter any such move.
Fars said the Iranian navy had been developing its presence in international waters since 2010, regularly launching vessels in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden to protect Iranian ships from Somali pirates operating in the area.
Hamid Dabashi, a professor of Iranian studies at Columbia University, said President Hassan Rouhani could be trying to woo right-wing Iranian politicians by showing a strong military presence.
The strategy might be part of the "Iranian ruling regime trying to save face as they forge ahead with nuclear negotiations," he said.
Hard-line Iranian politicians have accused the president of ceding too much to Western demands by halting a scheduled missile exercise, the state news agency said Sunday. Conservative politicians have long taken issue with Rouhani's diplomatic strategy.
IRNA reported that 24 members of parliament issued a statement saying the Supreme National Security Council, headed by the president, stopped the annual test and did not approve its budget.
Iran also agreed on Sunday with the International Atomic Energy Agency to take more steps to safeguard and enhance the transparency of its nuclear program. It was not immediately clear what those steps would be.
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