The UN nuclear supervisor flew to Tehran on Sunday looking for a deal to inspect
suspected weapons sites – a potential breakthrough that Iran may hope could
persuade the West to start lifting sanctions.
But though International
Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Yukiya Amano scheduled Monday’s talks with
Iran on such short notice that diplomats said agreement on new inspections may
be near, few see Tehran convincing Western governments to ease back swiftly on
punitive measures when its negotiators meet big power officials in Baghdad on
Senior officials in Jerusalem, meanwhile, cautioned the
permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany (P5+1) due to meet with
the Iranian negotiators, against falling into an Iranian trap to buy
While Israel was waiting for the outcome of the talks, Foreign
Minister Avigdor Liberman said Sunday, “we don’t see any willingness from the
Iranians to give up their nuclear ambitions.”
Liberman, speaking at a
press conference in Jerusalem with visiting US Secretary for Homeland Security
Janet Napolitano, said that for the Iranians, the talks were a means of
deception and a ploy to buy time.
“I don’t think that there are any
illusions in the international community regarding the Iranian program and their
willingness to give up on their military nuclear program,” he said.
Nevertheless, Liberman added, Israel would follow the talks
carefully and then establish a position.
Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe
Ya’alon said that if the Iranian government were faced with the dilemma of its
own survival or the nuclear program, it would opt for its own
“But it is not yet faced with that dilemma,” he
Ya’alon said the Iranians were still looking for room to
maneuver, and that the international community must be aware of Tehran’s
willingness to “sacrifice a pawn to save the king.”
Vice Premier Silvan
Shalom also expressed skepticism, saying amid optimism in the West that the
Iranians were beginning to move, that “it is hard for me to believe that Iran
has made a 180º turn in its position.”
Shalom said he was a big believer
in sanctions, which he said had worked both in South Africa and Libya. “I think
it is still too early to celebrate, and there is a need to continue with the
sanctions, which have the potential to defeat the Iranian regime.”
is scheduled to meet Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, on Monday,
two days before Jalili sits across a table in the Iraqi capital from Catherine
Ashton, the senior EU official heading the P5+1 delegation.
cooperation with UN inspectors, diplomats say Iran might aim for leverage ahead
of the broader negotiations. Western sanctions on Iran’s energy exports, and
threats by Israel and Washington of possible military action, have pushed up
world oil prices.
The IAEA said only that Amano and Jalili would discuss
“issues of mutual interest.”
Western diplomats say Amano would only make
a rare visit to Tehran if he believed a framework deal to give his inspectors
freer hands in their investigation was within reach.
“We regard the visit
by the agency’s director-general as a gesture of goodwill,” the Iranian student
news agency quoted Iranian foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi as saying on
He hoped for agreement on a “new modality” to work with the UN
agency that would “help clear up the ambiguities.”
The nuclear watchdog
wants access to sites, officials and documents to shed light on activities in
Iran that could be used to develop the capability to make nuclear weapons,
especially the Parchin military complex southeast of Tehran.
between Iran and senior Amano aides in Tehran in January and February failed to
make any notable progress. But both sides were more upbeat after a new round of
talks in Vienna last week, raising hopes they were making headway.
while an Iranian agreement on a so-called “structured approach” outlining the
ground rules on how to address the IAEA’s questions would be welcome, it remains
to be seen how and when it will be implemented in practice, Western officials
“We’ll see if the Iranians agree to let the agency visit Parchin. I
have my doubts, no matter what any agreement says on paper,” said one Western
envoy ahead of Amano’s visit to Iran and the meeting with world
Such a deal would also not be enough in itself to allay
The world powers want Iran to curb uranium
enrichment, which can have both civilian and military purposes.
not going to do anything concrete in exchange for nice words,” another diplomat
said of the Baghdad meeting, the arrangement of which stemmed from a P5+1
meeting with Iran in Istanbul last month that ended over a year of not
“Presumably we will get a flavor of what the Iranians are
prepared to do,” the diplomat said. “It sounds like they are interested in
Another Western diplomat said: “Cooperation with the
IAEA is important, but it takes some time to yield results. What we need now,
with the situation in the region, are urgently concrete steps. So our talks will
focus on something that can be implemented very quickly.”
In Baghdad, the
powers’ main goal is to get Iran to stop the higher-grade uranium enrichment it
started two years ago and has since expanded, shortening the time needed for any
Iran says it needs the uranium enriched to a fissile
concentration of 20 percent for its medical research reactor.
to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said there were hopes the
Baghdad meeting would be successful.
But Iran will not “tolerate any
pressure, and it decides about its destiny in the nuclear issue with full
authority,” Mehr News Agency quoted Ali Akbar Velayati as saying.
IAEA wants Iran to address issues raised by an agency report last year that
revealed intelligence pointing to past and possibly ongoing activity to help
develop atomic arms.
Iran says the intelligence is fabricated, and has so
far resisted requests for inspectors to visit Parchin.
say they suspect Iran is cleaning the site to remove incriminating evidence, a
charge Tehran dismisses.
“I hope Amano asks for his people to see
Parchin,” one Western diplomat said.
“But it seems a wild guess to
Diplomats say the six powers will probably aim to extract an offer
from Tehran to implement some limited curbs and begin a long-term process of
gradual concessions from all sides.
Their hope is that economic sanctions
that Western nations have imposed in the last year, targeting Iran’s vital oil
revenues and ability to trade with international partners, will be enough to
force Iran to take that first step, one diplomat said.
confidence-building measures that Iran could offer are “not all that
complicated,” said former senior US State Department official James Dobbins, now
with the Rand Corporation’s International Security and Defense Policy
“It is essentially, ‘Stop enriching to 20%, ship out what you’ve
and then let’s last start talking about more
comprehensive measures,’” he said.
But European diplomats say any
corresponding changes to their further oil embargo plans are out of the question
“The EU oil sanctions are a very big card and a very big step,”
one said. “Just because they have been applied last doesn’t mean they will be
the first to be taken off.”