Netanyahu to press Moscow on Iran

Ahmadinejad orders enrichment of Iran’s stockpile of uranium to 20%.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad 311 (photo credit: AP)
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad 311
(photo credit: AP)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will travel to Moscow next Sunday for three days, his office announced on Sunday, for talks expected to focus on getting Russia to back stepped-up sanctions against Iran.
The visit, planned weeks ago, comes as the West is showing signs of growing impatience with what is starting to be seen throughout the US and Europe as little more than Iranian stalling tactics.
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates called on Sunday for the international community to pressure Teheran into abandoning its nuclear program.
Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Sunday ordered his atomic agency to significantly enrich the country’s stockpile of uranium, maintaining, however, that his country was also still willing to follow a UN plan to export its uranium for further enrichment.
Refining uranium produces nuclear fuel for a power plant but if carried out far enough can create material for a weapon.
German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg responded to Ahmadinejad’s comments, saying, “Today’s statement shows that farce is being played out just like we have seen in the past, that the outstretched hand of the international community has not only not been taken but pushed back.”
Israeli officials said they have been warning for months that as “crunch time” approaches, when a decision will have to be made on additional sanctions, Iran would “play all kinds of games.”
Israel, the officials said, remained active behind the scenes, urging the international community not to back down, and to see through the various Iranian ploys.
The issue is expected to dominate Netanyahu’s agenda in Moscow, where he will be making his first formal visit as prime minister. He went there in September for less than 24 hours, on a “secret” visit that was soon uncovered by the press.
One Israeli government official said the chances of Jerusalem or anyone else convincing the Russians that the time has come in the UN Security Council to impose crippling sanctions were slim, and that the US would likely initiate sanctions outside the UN framework, along with like-minded states.
Nevertheless, Washington, Israeli officials believe, will look for some kind of UN Security Council resolution calling for a fourth round of sanctions as a legal basis to take further, independent action.
Speaking to reporters during a weeklong European tour, Gates said that “if the international community will stand together and bring pressure” on Iran, “I believe there is still time for sanctions to work.”
Gates declined to be specific about the type of sanctions he had in mind, but reiterated that the focus should be on putting pressure on the government in Teheran and not hurting the people.
“The rest of the world has really begun to see Iran the way we see it,” US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in an interview broadcast Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union program.
The International Atomic Energy Agency has been working on a compromise to defuse international tensions over Iran’s nuclear program. In October, the UN nuclear watchdog proposed that Teheran export its low-enriched uranium to Russia and France, which would return it a year later as enriched fuel rods that could be used to power Iran’s research reactor but couldn’t be used to make weapons-grade material without further processing.
By announcing that Iran would enrich the fuel on its own, Ahmadinejad appeared to reject the deal – even though he had seemed to endorse it just days earlier.
Iran wants to enrich its stockpile of uranium to 20 percent, up from 3.5%, to power a research reactor to produce medical isotopes. But the international community has demanded a halt to all enrichment activity because the same process is used to produce weapons-grade material.
While material for a nuclear weapon is enriched to a level of 90%, getting its stockpile to the 20% mark would be a major step for the country’s nuclear program.
Achieving that level “would be going most of the rest of the way to weapon-grade uranium,” said David Albright, whose Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security tracks suspected proliferators.
Speaking on state television, Ahmadinejad said that “God willing, 20% enrichment will start.” He then turned to the head of Iran’s atomic energy agency, Ali Akbar Salehi, and said: “Begin production of 20% [enriched uranium].”
At the same time, Iran’s president said he had not “closed the door” to the IAEA’s exchange option.
“We are still ready for a swap deal,” he said.
Salehi later appeared on state TV and said that a letter would be sentto the IAEA, and that Iran would start enriching its uranium to 20% onTuesday.
Ahmadinejad also said Iran has acquired laser technology for enrichmentof uranium, but added, “For now, we do not intend to use it.”
Meanwhile, Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei reiterated onSunday the destruction of Israel was assured, while pledging to “defendPalestinians due to their heartfelt beliefs.”
“Israel is going downhill toward decline and fall and God willing itsobliteration is certain,” Khamenei said during a meeting with IslamicJihad leader Ramadan Abdullah Shallah, according to the Teheran Times.