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Thursday, 10 September 2009

: Iran closer than ever to producing a nuclear weapon

The Russian representative to the IAEA Board of Governors says there is no alternative to diplomatic means in addressing the Iranian nuclear issue.

"We believe that today it is possible... to launch talks aimed at finding a diplomatic long-term resolution of the Iranian nuclear problem," RIA Novosti quoted Grigory Berdennikov as saying at a session of the IAEA Board of Governors in Vienna on Wednesday.

The Russian envoy further urged Tehran to ensure effective cooperation with the [International Atomic Energy] Agency on the basis of the resolutions of the IAEA Board of Governors and the UN Security Council'.

The Russian official also pointed out that his country supports the efforts made by the IAEA and its director Mohamed ElBaradei to resolve Iran's nuclear issue.

"The efforts by the IAEA to establish the evolutionary history of the Iranian nuclear program, the information agency has provided on Tehran's nuclear activities and its recommended measures to resolve the outstanding issues will restore confidence in the Iranian civilian nuclear program," he went on to say.

"We follow the advice of the Agency on ways to resolve the problem concerning the Iranian nuclear program and believe that if others did the same, there would be more progress in this area," he noted.

On September 9, Iran's Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki submitted a package of proposals on Iran's nuclear issue to the ambassadors from China, France, Germany, Russia and Switzerland - acting for the US - and the British chargé d'affaires in Tehran.

On the same day, a copy of the package was also submitted to the European Union foreign affairs chief Javier Solana by the Iranian ambassador in Brussels, Ali Asghar Khaji.

The details of the new package have not been publicly disclosed yet.

Iran faces pressure from the US and some of its allies to halt its nuclear enrichment, despite its right to possess full nuclear fuel cycle technology for civilian purposes as a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

In accordance with the terms of the NPT, Iran has opened its nuclear facilities to intrusive and ongoing inspections by the IAEA, which has confirmed that there has been no diversion of nuclear materials to military programs.

Tehran denies any plans or intentions to develop nuclear weapons and has called for the removal of all weapons of mass destruction across the globe. 

Reporting from Vienna and Beirut - Iran on Wednesday handed over a package of proposals for possible talks with world powers about its nuclear program, but it gave no indication that the offer would include discussions on halting its enrichment of uranium as demanded by the United Nations Security Council.

In Vienna, the United States and its European allies again condemned Iran's nuclear activities, noting that Iran has crossed or is close to the threshold for assembling enough fissile material to make one atomic bomb.

"This ongoing enrichment activity . . . moves Iran closer to a dangerous and destabilizing possible breakout capacity," Glyn Davies, U.S. ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, said at a meeting of the U.N. watchdog agency's governing board.

"We have serious concerns that Iran is deliberately attempting, at a minimum, to preserve a nuclear weapons option."

Western nations, along with Israel, suspect that Iran is preparing to build nuclear weapons under the guise of a civilian energy program, a charge that the Islamic Republic vehemently denies.

The U.S. intelligence community and outside experts believe Israel has 100 to 200 nuclear weapons, making it the sole nuclear power in the Middle East.

World powers fear that a nuclear Iran could further unsettle an already-volatile region and trigger an arms race.

The U.N. Security Council has repeatedly called on Iran to halt sensitive nuclear activity until it clears up questions about the nature of its nuclear enrichment program.

The United States, France, Britain and Germany have pushed for an increase in U.N. economic sanctions on Iran but have been thwarted by veto-bearing Russia and China, which remain economically and politically engaged with Tehran.

If the West is unable to gather momentum for sanctions at the U.N. General Assembly meeting next week, diplomats say, it might try to punish Iran by pursuing restrictions at the Group of 20 summit of world economic powerhouses this month in Pittsburgh.

Details of the Iranian package, handed to diplomats in Tehran late Wednesday, were not made public.

Saeed Jalili, Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, said last week that it would be an updated version of a proposal submitted last year. That proposal was dismissed by the U.S. and its allies as irrelevant.

Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's envoy to the IAEA, said the new proposal includes possible talks on nuclear matters.

"It covers all issues of concern and interests inter alia security, economic cooperation, nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament, energy supply and demands, energy security as well as peaceful applications of nuclear energy," Soltanieh said in a statement distributed to reporters in Vienna.

"The basis of negotiations would be this package," the Iranian envoy told reporters on the sidelines of the board of governors meeting.

"And during the process of negotiations, all parties in an open-minded, pragmatic manner have to deal with the issues and any parties in any negotiations have the right to reflect their viewpoints and comments on it."

The Obama administration has offered to engage in comprehensive talks with Iran without preconditions.

But after years of what international atomic agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei described Wednesday as a "logjam," France, Germany and Britain have grown increasingly skeptical about negotiations.

The Islamic Republic has brushed aside as forgeries a set of documents that purportedly show it engaged in nuclear experiments consistent with a clandestine weapons program until 2003.

"If this information is real, there is a high probability that Iran nuclear weaponization activities have taken place," ElBaradei told the board, according to a transcript of his remarks. "But I should underline 'if' three times."

Germany's ambassador to the atomic agency, Ruediger Luedeking, decried Iran's "disrespect" for its international obligations.

"This Iranian attitude further reinforces doubts relating to the nature of Iran's nuclear program," the ambassador said, reading a statement on behalf of his country, France and Britain.

"Iran must address the lack of confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of the Iranian nuclear program. It should build, not reduce, confidence."

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