INCIDENT: Iran has disputed a recent report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) claiming that it intends to use depleted fuel rods for pyroprocessing experiments, as a proposed round of new sanctions in the UN gets a boost from what appears to be Russia’s acquiescence.
BACKGROUND: On Monday, 31 May, the IAEA released a report citing Iran’s ongoing non-compliance with its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) commitments to report on past, present and planned nuclear development. According to the IAEA, Iran is not providing sufficient access to files and scientists, and is continuing to expand its LEU stocks and capacity to enrich uranium to around 20 percent, allegedly for use in the Tehran Research Reactor.
On 3 June, Iran’s chief atomic energy official Ali-Akbar Salehi told media that the IEAE had misunderstood the nature of the pyroprocessing experiments. (Pyroprocessing is used to purify materials, including uranium metal, in order to bring about a chemical or physical change. The material can then be used in nuclear warheads). According to Salehi, the process is designed to protect against radiation. Iran continues to deny charges from the US and its allies that it is working towards making nuclear weapons under the guise of a civilian energy program.
In the meantime, a proposed new round of sanctions in the UN that would bolster an arms embargo, restrict financial transactions and enhance the authority to seize Iranian cargo is gaining ground, and it now looks likely that Washington – which is leading the new sanctions proposal – will win Russian support for the vote.
Former US Secretary of State Colin Powell has chimed in on the sanctions debate as well, telling ABC’s ‘This Week’ program that further rounds of sanctions will not end the Iranian nuclear program. “I don’t see that this causes sufficient pain,” he said. “I’m sure that they have done their own planning and have their own counter-sanction strategy,” Powell said of the Iranian government.
BOTTOM LINE: Regarding new sanctions against Iran, the US appears to have cemented Russian support in return for lifting punitive measures against Russian arms firms dealing with the Islamic Republic. This indicates that Washington is assured that Moscow will not be providing the Iranians with the advanced S-300 anti-aircraft system, which is capable of shooting down US and Israeli jets.
China has also expressed support for the new punitive measures but will likely look to string the process out at the UN Security Council in a bid to weaken the sanctions package to ensure that its own bilateral energy ties with Iran are not compromised.
Though Powell’s statement might suggest that he is alone in thinking that new sanctions against Iran are futile, he is not. Clearly, the Obama administration does not believe that new sanctions will resolve the issue. Instead, Washington is using the new sanctions to buy time and set the stage for a new round of negotiations with Iran. The sanctions are also intended to lend the impression that Washington is actively engaging in the issue and doing whatever it can to avoid military escalation in the region.
Iranian claims that the country is planning to build 10 new enrichment facilities should not be taken seriously, and Iran has failed to win any notable support for its nuclear stances among the Non-Aligned Movement. The bottom line is that Iran is isolated – a situation the NPT review conference clearly highlighted – and not in a strong negotiating position.
By. Charles Kennedy for Oilprice.com