IAEA nuclear experts visit Iran - but no nuclear sites

The second visit in a month by members of the UN nuclear watchdog agency is aimed at laying the groundwork for negotiations between Iran and the IAEA.

By , Staff writer

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    Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi (r.) and his Omani counterpart Yousef bin Alawi attend a joint news conference in Tehran on Tuesday, Feb. 21.
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UN nuclear inspectors in Iran will not visit any nuclear sites during their two-day visit, the Iranian foreign minister said today.

Ramin Mehmanparast said that the team was made up of “experts” – not inspectors, as they have been described in news reports – and that they were there for discussions that would lay the groundwork for negotiations between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) regarding the country’s nuclear program, the Associated Press reports.

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Iran views its nuclear program – which it insists is for peaceful purposes only – as a “non-negotiable right,” Agence France-Presse reports. The implication is that Iran will not give up its nuclear program, although it may consent to some controls or limits on it.

Iranian state radio reported yesterday that the IAEA team asked to visit the Parchin military complex, suspected of being the site of covert weapon development, and to meet nuclear scientists, according to the Associated Press. The IAEA visit less than a month ago also did not include a visit to any Iranian nuclear sites.

In recent weeks, the tone of discussions about a military strike have escalated. An Iranian military leader warned today that Iran would stage a preemptive attack if it felt an attack on its nuclear program was imminent, Reuters reports.

“Our strategy now is that if we feel our enemies want to endanger Iran’s national interests, and want to decide to do that, we will act without waiting for their actions,” said Mohammed Hejazi, the deputy armed forces head, according to the semi-official Fars News Agency.

The New York Times describes the recent heightened rhetoric as “a poker game with potentially lethal stakes, as both Iran and its adversaries maneuver for advantage with no way of knowing their opponent’s ultimate intentions.”

As the US and Britain have attempted to dissuade Israel from considering a strike, the Iranian government has boasted of improvements to its nuclear enrichment capabilities, according to the Times. Last week it announced that it was now using domestically produced fuel rods and had installed 3,000 new centrifuges.

Britain's Parliament yesterday debated a motion that would rule out a British strike on Iran, but Foreign Secretary William Hague spoke strongly against it, saying it would “boost Iran’s confidence” and make it more likely that Israel would attack.

Meanwhile, US officials have given interviews to American journalists in recent weeks criticizing Israel’s consideration of an attack on Iran – angering Israeli officials, Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports.

Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey told CNN on Feb. 19 that it would be “destabilizing” and “not prudent” to launch an attack at this time and said the US has so far been unsuccessful at persuading Israel to give up the possibility of an attack on Iran. 

Israel has indicated that if the US wants it to stop making such preparations, the US needs to increase pressure on Iran further. "We made it clear that if we don't increase the pressure on the Iranians now, we might be in a situation in which the question how Iran obtained nuclear weapons would become an issue for commentators and historians," an Israeli official told Haaretz, implying that without more pressure, Iran will achieve weapons capability. 

Yesterday, The New York Times published a story laying out the steps necessary for a successful Israeli attack that made it clear current and former US military officials and exports thought it would be an extremely difficult task, although there were admissions that the US might not have full insight into Israel’s capabilities.

Should Israel decide to launch a strike on Iran, its pilots would have to fly more than 1,000 miles across unfriendly airspace, refuel in the air en route, fight off Iran’s air defenses, attack multiple underground sites simultaneously – and use at least 100 planes.

That is the assessment of American defense officials and military analysts close to the Pentagon, who say that an Israeli attack meant to set back Iran’s nuclear program would be a huge and highly complex operation.

“All the pundits who talk about ‘Oh, yeah, bomb Iran,’ it ain’t going to be that easy,” said Lt. Gen. David A. Deptula, who retired last year as the Air Force’s top intelligence official and who planned the American air campaigns in 2001 in Afghanistan and in the 1991 Gulf War.

As one of many steps to increase pressure on Iran, the European Union agreed in January to impose an embargo on imports of Iranian oil, scheduled to go into effect this summer. In retaliation, Iran announced a ban on oil exports to Britain and France this week and said it might extend the ban to other countries unless they agree to “guarantees of payments, long-term contracts, and a ban on unilateral cancellation of contracts by buyers,” the Associated Press reports.

Iranian oil exports are much more critical to countries such as Spain and Italy, which get one-eighth of their oil from Iran, and Greece, which gets one-third of its oil from Iran, than they are to Britain or France, The New York Times notes.

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