Iran set to respond to UN-drafted plan

House Committee approves

October 28, 2009 21:53

An Iranian lawmaker said that Teheran would formally respond on Thursday to a UN-drafted plan to ship much of its uranium abroad for enrichment. Iran has been considering the deal - which Western leaders hope will ease concerns over Teheran's controversial nuclear program - for a week now. Lawmaker Muhammad Karamirad did not provide details, but Teheran's response is expected to be handed in at the UN nuclear agency in Vienna. Karamirad's remark was reported by the semiofficial ISNA news agency. Iran is expected to present a counteroffer with "important adjustments," said Al Alam, a Teheran-based, government-controlled Arabic-language television news channel, citing unnamed sources. The UN plan is for Iran to transfer most of its nuclear stockpile to Russia and France to be turned into fuel for a medical reactor. The US, Russia, France and the International Atomic Energy Agency last week signed off on a plan to transport the bulk of Iran's enriched uranium to Russia and France to be further refined and shaped into fuel plates for the medical reactor, which produces isotopes for cancer diagnoses and treatment. Meanwhile, Congressional sanctions on Iran cleared another hurdle Wednesday as a key committee approved legislation to block refined petroleum from reaching Teheran. The bill was first sponsored by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman, who didn't move on the legislation until now to give the Obama administration's diplomacy time to work. The committee's lopsided voice vote approval of the measure, which has 330 co-sponsors, was an indication of Congress's growing impatience with Iranian maneuvering. Three other committees now need to weigh in on the measure before it goes to a full House vote, but Berman said Wednesday he would do "everything in my power" to make sure the timeline for the legislation's approval was not stretched out and indicated it could pass by the beginning of next year. The Senate is also set to move on similar legislation. "This legislation seeks to target Iran's ongoing dependence on refined petroleum imports. It is not a magic bullet, but it will - at least - force the Iranians to think twice about continuing to flout the will of the international community," he said ahead of the committee vote. Berman noted that previous Iran sanctions legislation "has been ignored by every administration," but that this bill would require the administration to report to Congress all activities that would trigger sanctions. He also referred to the recent international talks being held with Iran and the agreement being worked out whereby Iran would send large portions of its enriched uranium stockpiles abroad. "We must recognize that whatever the progress on that recent arrangement, it does not address the international community's central concern: suspension of Iran's uranium enrichment program," he stressed. In other legislative moves Wednesday, US President Barack Obama signed hate crimes legislation long championed by the Anti-Defamation League and other Jewish groups, which has been in the works for years. Obama also announced Wednesday that former senators Chuck Hagel and David Boren would serve as co-chairmen of the President's Intelligence Advisory Board. The move drew swift criticism from the Republican Jewish Coalition, which have been among the Jewish voices to criticize Hagel's posture on Israel despite having served as a Republican senator. "Chuck Hagel has a distorted view of Israel, of Iran and of the threats to US interests in the Middle East," charged RJC Executive Director Matt Brooks. "Placing him in a sensitive role in the intelligence community, where he will advise the president on the effectiveness of intelligence community assessments of global issues, is very troubling." Although the proposed deal on the table would not fully allay international concerns about Iran's nuclear ambitions, it would temporarily reduce the country's stockpile and dampen fears that Iran could suddenly break out of treaty obligations and make a quick sprint toward developing a nuclear weapon. And diplomats said the deal could also lay the groundwork for broader negotiations. But Iran watchers said they expect the Islamic republic to try to negotiate hard over the quantity and timing of the enriched uranium shipped abroad in order to gain maximum advantage and ease hard-liners' mistrust of any deal with the West. "My experience in dealing with a lot of these guys is they won't give up anything until they absolutely have to," said Mark Fowler, a former CIA Iran expert now working as an analyst at Booz Allen Hamilton in Washington. "They will hold a very hard line. They won't give anything up, at least not up front." US State Department spokesman Ian Kelly told reporters Tuesday that the US is waiting to weigh in until Iran submits an official response to the proposal. But at least one American ally expressed impatience with Iran. "Iran is wasting time because it is now that we need to talk. One day it will be too late," French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said on the sidelines of a meeting with European counterparts in Luxembourg, according to Agence-France Presse. According to Al Alam, "Teheran will agree with the general framework of the agreement on fuel for the Teheran research nuclear reactor, but it will also stipulate important provisos," which its source did not specify. On Monday, Iranian Foreign Minister Manoucher Mottaki said Iran was closely considering the deal but may want to send less than the 2,650 pounds of enriched uranium it specifies or purchase the enriched uranium required for the Teheran reactor. An Al Alam editor, Nevid Behrouz, said that Iran's worries about the plan center on the quantity it was to ship abroad and its worries that the West would not send the material back. In addition to angling for a better deal, Iranian officials lack confidence in the West and the UN and even feel betrayed by Russia for dragging its feet in providing fuel for a nuclear power plant in Bushehr, Fowler said. "They truly believe that if they're not careful, they're going to step into some kind of trap... [that] they're going to be literally cheated, embarrassed or backed into a corner," he said. Iran missed a Friday deadline to respond to the proposal but gained important leverage this week when Russia, which holds United Nations Security Council veto power, came to its defense and urged patience. "In this month alone, concrete and potentially effective solutions have been found," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Rybakov said in an interview published Monday, according to the Interfax news agency. "It can't be ruled out that the process won't continue with the same intensity. But everyone should arm themselves with as much patience as possible." "By and large, Iran is showing readiness for cooperation with both the IAEA and others," he added. US conservatives, such as Bush administration veteran John Bolton, have criticized the Obama administration for endorsing the deal, saying it legitimized Iran's continued enrichment of uranium in violation of the wishes of the UN Security Council. Al Alam's Behrouz agreed. "By accepting this draft," the analyst said, "the West has annulled the previous UN Security Council decisions on halting enrichment." Meanwhile, senior Revolutionary Guards official Ali Fadavi was quoted on Tuesday as saying Iran had successfully shattered the superiority of world powers in the field of military technology by developing precise ballistic missile capabilities, as well as speedy warships equipped to carry and fire missiles. Iran had acquired "the technology for firing missiles from surface and subsurface speedy vessels with maximum precision targeting capability and minimum deviation," he was quoted by the Iranian Fars news agency as saying. According to the Fars report, Fadavi added that the Revolutionary Guards was meticulously monitoring the moves made by Iran's enemies.

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