Tougher sanctions against Iran are on the table

The five permanent members of the UN Security Council along with Germany will meet on Monday in London to discuss further sanctions against Iran. The BBC reports that the move comes as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported that Iran had ignored a deadline to suspend its nuclear activities.

The report, written by [IAEA] head Mohamed ElBaradei, said Iran had not only failed to stop enrichment but was expanding the scale of its enrichment program. The six-page document said there had been little progress in clearing up outstanding questions about Iran's past nuclear activities. It said Iran had expanded from research-scale to industrial-scale production of enriched uranium.

The Associated Press reports that there are are likely to be divisions among the countries meeting in London. Britain and France are likely to join the United States in a call for sanctions that will go beyond what Russia and China are willing to accept. Among the sanctions that are being considered are a ban on travel, a further restriction on technologies and materials that countries can send to Iran, and more economic measures.

Russia's UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said he had "no substantive comment" on the International Atomic Energy Agency's report Thursday which concluded that "Iran has not suspended its enrichment related activities" as the Security Council demanded in a resolution adopted on Dec. 23. But he reiterated Moscow's desire for a diplomatic negotiated solution.

"We should not lose sight of the goal – and the goal is not to have a resolution or to impose sanctions," Churkin said. "The goal is to accomplish a political outcome."

The Washington Post reports that US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice warned Iran on Thursday that it faced much tougher sanctions if it continued with its plans to develop a uranium-enrichment program. She also said, however, that the US and other members of the UN Security Council were still prepared to sit down and talk with Iran if it suspended its program.

"We have the common goal to encourage Iran back to the bargaining table," Rice said after a meeting in Berlin with her counterparts from Russia, Germany and the European Union. "The hope is that the sanctions show the Iranians the isolation that they are enduring, that isolation is likely to increase over time and that it is time to take a different course."

Meanwhile, the Guardian reports that much of the intelligence provided by US spy agencies to the IAEA about Iran's nuclear program has turned out to be unfounded, according to diplomatic sources in Vienna. Most of the supposed secret weapon sites, which were given to the agency by the CIA and other US intelligence agencies, have turned out to be dead ends when investigatedby IAEA inspectors.

"Most of it has turned out to be incorrect," said a diplomat at the IAEA with detailed knowledge of the agency's investigations. "They gave us a paper with a list of sites. [The inspectors] did some follow-up, they went to some military sites, but there was no sign of [banned nuclear] activities."

"Now [the inspectors] don't go in blindly. Only if it passes a credibility test."

Tehran has insisted for some time that the documents that purported to show elements of a nuclear weapons program, which were found on a stolen laptop by Iranian informants, were forgeries. The Guardian reports that there are concerns within the IAEA about these documents, because of how easily they were reportedly stolen and the fact that they are all in English rather than in Farsi.

Finally, the Los Angeles Times reports that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad refused to consider any compromise on his country's position, saying Thursday that Iran will not withdraw from its nuclear stance "even one step." During an IAEA visit to the Natanz nuclear facility in February, Iranian officials said they are in the process of installing 3000 centrifuges. This has some officials concerned that Iran may be near the "breakout point"of being able to produce a nuclear weapon if they wanted to. Iran has continued to insist that it only plans to use its nuclear plants for peaceful generation of power.

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