Khamenei douses hopes for nuclear talks

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

By Mark Fitzpatrick, Director, Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme

He is a mad mullah after all – mad meaning angry, that is. Following the positive notes sounded by US Vice President Joe Biden and Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi in Munich last week, it did not take long for Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to quash any optimism over the next round of nuclear talks between Iran and the international community. These are scheduled to take place in Almaty on 26 February.

In a speech on 7 February, Khamenei ruled out holding bilateral talks with America on his country’s controversial nuclear programme so long as Washington continued pressure tactics. He claimed the US was proposing talks while ‘pointing a gun at Iran’, adding that: ‘Some naive people like the idea of negotiating with America [but] negotiations will not solve the problems.’

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Iran’s refusal on concessions renews the threats of war

Fordow

Fordow Uranium Enrichment Facility, North of Qom. Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons/Podnox

Mark Fitzpatrick, Director of Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme, wrote an op-ed in The National published on 10 October examining how a prolonged stalemate in negotiations over Iran’s nuclear programme could lead to a strike.

Iran is ‘so far from making concessions’, writes Fitzpatrick, that there has not yet been any need for the E3+3 (France, Germany and the UK plus Russia, China and the US) to grapple with the issue of sanctions relief.

As a confidence-building measure, the E3+3 asked Iran to stop production of 20% enriched uranium, ship out the accumulated 20 per cent product and shut down its enrichment facility at Fordow.  Iran is only willing to consider stopping 20% enrichment, in exchange for the lifting of all sanctions. The trade from Iran’s point of view has been characterised by former Iranian negotiator Hossein Mousavian as amounting to ‘diamonds for peanuts‘. But for the E3+3, what Iran is offering is similarly unpalatable: ‘With the lower level of enrichment, Iran could get to the bomb in only a slightly longer time than if it started with a 20 per cent product,’ writes Fitzpatrick.

A change in Iran’s position could be ‘too little, too late’. Sanctions are having a devastating effect on Iran’s economy, but there is not likely to be another meaningful meeting between the negotiating powers until after the US election – and it is possible concessions won’t be made until after Iran’s own presidential elections in June 2013, and even then, these may merely be tactical. If a new Iranian president isn’t ready to make a deal next year, Israel may attack.

Read the full article.


Iran’s nuclear programme: situation not yet hopeless

Senior Iranian leaders at the 16th Non-Aligned Movement Summit in Tehran

As predicted, the latest report on Iran’s nuclear programme by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has contributed to a push in Israel and parts of the US for preventive military action. Since May, Iran has installed more than a thousand new centrifuges in the underground facility at Fordow, doubling the number there since the last IAEA report in May.

In a pre-emptive move of their own, White House officials gave their own spin to the latest developments several days before the IAEA released the report. While not underplaying their concern over Iran’s continued defiance, the Obama team noted that the new numbers are not a ‘game changer’. The new centrifuges are not (yet) being used for enrichment and the stockpile of 20% enriched uranium has not grown since May because half of it has been converted to an oxide form for use in fuel plates.

The danger posed by Iran’s nuclear programme is heightening incrementally: the numbers grow arithmetically, not by orders of magnitude. Mark Fitzpatrick, in a new article for Al-Monitor questions the wisdom of a war over a 10% increase in centrifuges. A proportionate response would be to increase the sanctions pressure on Iran, which has so far not made good use of diplomacy.

Read the full article at Al-Monitor


Talking with the Iranian media

By Mark Fitzpatrick, Director, Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme

Given the depth of distrust and misunderstanding between Iran and the West, I try to take whatever opportunities present themselves for communication. And having been enjoined from official contacts with Iranians during the 26 years that I represented Uncle Sam, it’s a welcome liberation.

I particularly appreciate opportunities to speak to the Iranian public. So when the BBC Persian service, VOA or other Iran-directed broadcasts ask for an interview, I accommodate. I don’t see much value in giving interviews to Iranian English media outlets like Press TV that are outwardly a direct propaganda arm of the regime. But I do talk with the state Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) because their stories are usually for both domestic and international audiences.

Giving interviews to IRNA can be fraught, though, and on both sides. On the eve of the Moscow talks, an IRNA journalist posed 13 questions to me about the West’s position. I tethered my answers to orthodoxy, knowing that any hint of disagreement with Washington’s views would be highlighted and possibly taken out of context.

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Iran can be stopped

Iran's Sajjil missile. Photo Fars News Agency/Vahi Reza AlaeiOur prolific director of non-proliferation – or ‘the Great Fitzpatrick‘ as some others call him – has the cover story in the latest issue of the British current affairs magazine, Prospect. In the article, which draws on and updates both the strategic dossier on Iran’s nuclear capabilities that he edited last year, and 2010’s Iran missile dossier, he argues that sanctions and the threat of military action may dissuade Tehran from building a bomb.

‘It is not inevitable’, he writes, ‘that Iran will arm itself with nuclear weapons. Nor is a military strike by Israel or the United States the only alternative. Such worst-case assumptions could could lead to another unnecessary war in the Middle East, this time possibly lasting a decade or more.’ See the article at Prospect.


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