Even as the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) today backed Iran's nuclear program in its final statement from the Tehran summit, the United Nations chief and a new UN report condemned Iran's lack of cooperation in reassuring the international community it is not pursuing nuclear weapons.
Iran has made steady progress with its advanced program in the past six months, doubling production compared to the previous two years of 20 percent low-enriched uranium – the level world powers want Iran to stop production of because it is not far off from weapons-grade – according to a report by the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) made public yesterday. Iran has already converted half of it to fuel, however, making it of little use top Iran for any bomb-making.
Iran also doubled the number of centrifuges used for enrichment at the relatively small underground Fordow facility, although none of the new ones were yet working.
With nuclear talks between Iran and world powers stalled for months, the IAEA reported no progress resolving questions about "possible military dimensions" that have dogged Iran for years.
Iran has also yet to allow the IAEA to visit a military site at Parchin, where the agency suspects Iran carried out explosives testing that it is now working to cover up, which has "significantly hampered" the agency's investigation efforts.
Iran insists that its nuclear production efforts are peaceful. Supreme religious leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei repeated that declaration during the NAM summit.
"I stress that the Islamic Republic has never been after nuclear weapons and that it will never give up the right of its people to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes," Khamenei said in his speech yesterday to open the conference.
"Our motto is 'Nuclear energy for all and nuclear weapons for none,'" he said. "The US and its Western allies have armed the usurper Zionist regime [Israel] with nuclear weapons and created a major threat for this sensitive region. Yet the same deceitful group does not tolerate the peaceful use of nuclear energy by independent countries."
Still, the IAEA wrote, as it has in numerous previous reports, that the lack of Iranian cooperation has prevented the IAEA from being able to declare that all nuclear work in Iran "is in peaceful activities."
Both US and Israeli intelligence agencies are reported to believe that Iran has not made a decision to build a nuclear weapon.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon pointedly called for greater cooperation on the nuclear file in a face-to-face meeting with Khamenei and during his speech at the summit, and again today when addressing the School of International Relations.
"It is in Iran's interest to take concrete steps to build international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of its nuclear program," Mr. Ban said today, calling for the nuclear issue to be solve through "diplomatic and peaceful means." "That is why I urge Iran to uphold its responsibilities as a UN member state and ... comply with relevant Security Council resolutions."
Nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1 group (the permanent five members of the UN Security Council – the US, Russia, China, Britain, France – and Germany) began last spring but have slowed over the P5+1's demands that Tehran close Fordow, and halt all uranium enrichment.
A call between the top negotiators Catherine Ashton for the P5+1, and Saeed Jalili for Iran, was meant to have been held by the end of August but will now take place next week at the earliest, according to Ms. Ashton's office.
Few expect any progress before the US presidential election in early November, citing US President Obama's unwillingness to be perceived as making any concessions on Iran, while his opponent Mitt Romney calls him "soft" on the nuclear program.
"Everyone – absolutely everyone – is waiting for the American election," says a former senior European diplomat until recently posted in Iran. "If there is any movement at all it will be afterwards. They completely understand that the Iranians can't move, and that the Americans can't move – so everybody is waiting for that November day."
US administration officials have said the nuclear progress noted in the IAEA report is not a "game changer," either for talks or US action. US and Israeli officials have said repeatedly that "all options" – including military ones – remain on the table.
"Why Iran is not operating the newly installed centrifuges is uncertain. Technical difficulties offer one possibility," writes Mark Fitzpatrick, a nonproliferation expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, in an analysis posted today on Al-Monitor website.
"Iran may also be seeking to calibrate the tempo of its enrichment activity so as not to goad its antagonists," says Mr. Fitzpatrick. "Tehran has proven to be adept at such salami-slicing tactics, gradually increasing the size of its enrichment program [so] it now has a stockpile of low-enriched uranium sufficient for at least four weapons [some say more than six] if further enriched."