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Middle East

Riyadh: Iran atomic program boosts threats

  • Wood talks with Israel’s Ambassador to the IAEA, Ehud Azoulay, left, before the agency’s board of governors meeting.

JEDDAH/VIENNA/DUBAI: Saudi Arabia said Tuesday Iran’s nuclear program has increased threats to the Gulf region and urged Tehran to cooperate with world powers to defuse tension after talks last month failed to achieve a breakthrough.

“For sure the Iranian nuclear program has escalated the threat level in the region ... So it is dangerous,” Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said in Jeddah after a Gulf Cooperation Council meeting.

“We hope Iran, with all kinds of threats coming from it, changes its policy to protect a region that is Iran’s [as well]. I cannot imagine Iran becoming the reason for the destruction of this region because it will be the biggest loser,” he added.

Talks last month between Iran and six world powers over its nuclear ambitions ended without an agreement but the sides decided to reconvene in Moscow on June 18-19 in another effort to bridge the longstanding dispute.

“This requires greater cooperation from Iran with the international group,” Prince Saud said. “We hope that Iran stops its nuclear program and reassures the region’s states.”

Iran’s state TV said Tuesday the European Union has ignored a request by Tehran for preparatory talks ahead of the Moscow talks.

The report said Iran’s deputy nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri sent two letters requesting talks to Helga Schmid, a representative for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

Bagheri sent the letters late May and June 4, and the EU had not answered. An EU representative could not be reached immediately for comment.

Meanwhile, a senior U.S. official said Tuesday that Iran was carrying out cleanup efforts at a military site, Parchin, that the U.N. nuclear watchdog wants to visit as part of a probe into suspected atom bomb research in Iran.

Robert Wood, acting head of the U.S. mission to the International Atomic Energy Agency, also told the IAEA’s 35-nation board that Iran had produced enough low-enriched uranium for several nuclear weapons if refined further to high levels.

“Iran has actually accelerated its production of low-enriched uranium,” Wood said, according to a copy of his statement. “There appears no immediate peaceful need for such stockpiles or for such an acceleration of the program, and we would note that this quantity of low-enriched uranium is enough for several nuclear weapons if further enriched to higher levels.”

Iran is refining uranium to 20 percent of fissile purity – well above the level required to run nuclear power plants – for what it says will be fuel for a medical research reactor.

But Western officials are worried because the 20 percent level hurdles major technical barriers to reaching the 90 percent – or bomb-grade – threshold and they believe Iran is stockpiling more material than it needs for nuclear medicine.

Also Tuesday, an adviser to Iran’s supreme leader has urged world powers to formally recognize its nuclear rights to bring about a “favorable result” at talks later this month, state media reported.

Deflecting Iranian pressure in talks last month, Western countries declined to accord any such recognition, saying Tehran had no automatic right to enrich uranium because of previous violations of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Iran says that under its NPT membership, it can develop a full nuclear fuel cycle for peaceful purposes including uranium enrichment, a process that yields fuel for power stations or bombs, depending on the level of refinement.

“I hope the P5+1 group recognizes Iran’s inalienable nuclear right within the framework of the NPT and refrains from sitting on the sidelines,” IRNA quoted Ali Akbar Velayati, an aide to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as saying.

“By accepting Iran’s right to use peaceful nuclear energy, the forthcoming talks in Moscow should reach a favorable result.”

Khamenei – who has total command over Iran’s nuclear policy – has publicly forbidden the development of nuclear weapons. Iran says it is enriching uranium only for civilian energy.

Western nations suspect that the Iran’s higher-grade uranium enrichment is part of a clandestine program to develop the material and components needed for a capacity to produce nuclear arms.

Despite Velayati’s firm line, diplomats say Iranian negotiators were forthcoming at the talks in Baghdad – in contrast to previous failed negotiations – and believe Khamenei has given them a freer hand to explore a deal.

Last week U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton indicated the meeting would be crucial because of Washington’s need to see “concrete actions.”

Iran has at times appeared flexible on halting higher-grade enrichment if its requirements for fuel are met.

But in recent weeks Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has demanded the powers get tougher with Iran and insists it halts all enrichment. He has also reserved Israel’s right to take military action against Iran if negotiations fail.

Velayati played down the possibility of Israeli military strikes: “They neither have the power nor the courage to do such a thing.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 06, 2012, on page 9.
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