No Israeli response to Iran-Russia deal

Source: Agreement is PR stunt to delay real response to issue.

iran fm 298.88 (photo credit: Associated Press)
iran fm 298.88
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Israel had no official response Sunday evening to reports of a Russian-Iranian deal on enriching uranium. One Israeli source following the issue said that too many details of the reported agreement were unknown to be able to formulate a response. Among the questions that still needed to be asked were whether the Russians had stood firm in maintaining that no enrichment of uranium would take place on Iranian soil, and whether or not the Russians had agreed that there could be no research and development in Iran. These were among the conditions that Israel had made clear in the past it felt were essential ingredients to any Russian offer to enrich uranium for the Iranians. The source said, however, that Sunday's announcement was likely a PR stunt designed to take "the winds out of the sails of" efforts to get the United Nations Security Council to deal with the issue and possibly impose sanctions. Iranian nuclear chief Gholamreza Aghazadeh said a "basic agreement" had been reached Sunday with Russia for the establishment of a joint uranium enrichment venture. Previous talks on Moscow's offer - backed by the United States and the European Union - had made no headway. Aghazadeh and Russian head of atomic energy Kiriyenko, who were jointly visiting a nuclear plant being built by Russia in this city on the Persian Gulf, said nuclear talks would continue in Moscow over the next few days, but gave no firm dates, the ITAR-Tass, Interfax and RIA Novosti news agencies reported. Russia has said that its enrichment offer was contingent on Iran resuming a moratorium on domestic enrichment, but Iranian officials have rejected such a link and in the past insisted on their right to a domestic program. Meanwhile, Henry A. Crumpton, the State Departments' counterterrorism coordinator, told The Jerusalem Post Friday that the Russian compromise "could help," but that other steps needed to be taken in tandem. "There have to be some other things, including transparency as to what the Iranians are doing," Crumpton said. He said his concern was that even if the uranium were to be enriched in Russia, the Iranians would simultaneously keep working on other parts of their nuclear weapons program. Crumpton said that so far diplomatic efforts are lagging far behind Iran's technological progress. He said that the international community could not abide a situation where Iran gains nuclear weapons. He added that given the gravity of the Iranian nuclear threat, all options, including the military option, were "on the table." Kiriyenko said after several days of talks with Iranian officials that "negotiations weren't going simply and easily." But he was quoted as saying that "there were practically no technical, organizational and financial problems left" in talks on the Russian proposal. Kiriyenko also said that Moscow will insist on keeping the issue within the International Atomic Energy Agency when the IAEA considers the issue on March 6. The IAEA meeting was ahead of a possible Security Council discussion on the issue. Also Sunday, Iran played down a secret nuclear project that US intelligence has linked to warhead design, saying it would offer information on it to the IAEA. "We will discuss the issue, and the rumors surrounding it, with the agency. It is not very sensitive or ambiguous," Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said when asked about the secret project known as "Green Salt." Asefi confirmed that an IAEA team was in Tehran to discuss the country's nuclear program. Iran has denied seeking atomic weapons and more than three years of IAEA probing have failed to produce concrete evidence. But the agency discovered suspicious activity, including plutonium experiments and long-secret efforts to develop enrich uranium. Public mention of the "Green Salt Project" first surfaced in an IAEA report drawn up earlier this month for a meeting of the agency's 35-nation board of governors. The meeting ended with the board reporting Tehran to the Security Council over concerns it could be hiding a nuclear weapons program. Speaking to reporters in a weekly news conference, Asefi said his country expects the next session of the board of governors of the agency to be held on a "nonpolitical, independent and professional" basis. Asefi reiterated that Iran would continue its nuclear fuel research activities and would not give in its nuclear right under pressure and the "bullying language."