February 16, 2012

Iran News Roundup 2/15

Iran Announces Nuclear Program Advances
Iran began loading domestically manufactured nuclear fuel rods into its Tehran Research Reactor, which produces medical isotopes used in cancer treatments. In a ceremony broadcast on state TV, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad placed the first fuel rod into the reactor. He praised this achievement as an important step toward Iran’s goal of mastering the complete nuclear fuel cycle. (USATODAY 2/15)
During the ceremony, Iran also announced that it had began using advanced, “fourth generation” carbon fiber centrifuge models at its uranium enrichment facility at Natanz. Iranian officials claim the new centrifuge models will increase their enriched uranium production capacity by operating at a higher speed. However, some Western nuclear experts have cast doubts on these claims and assert that Iran has failed to demonstrate evidence of less advanced second- or third-generation centrifuge capabilities. (CBS News 2/15)
Iranian state media also reported that Iran is ready to formally announce that the Fordo uranium enrichment facility, located in a mountain bunker near the city of Qom, is fully operational. Following an inspection of the facility last month, the International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed that Iran is enriching uranium up to 20%, which is the level needed to produce fuel for the medical research reactor. (Washington Post 2/15)
Reports of Iran Plan to Cut Oil Exports to Europe
Iran’s Press TV reported that the Iranian government would no longer export oil to France, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Greece, in response to the European Union’s latest sanctions on Iran that include a ban on imports of Iranian oil. Crude prices rose to nearly $102 a barrel following the announcement on Wednesday.  However, when reached for comment, a spokesman for the Iranian oil ministry denied the reports and insisted that such a decision would have to be made by Iran’s Supreme National Security Council. (Reuters 2/15)
IAEA Set to Visit Tehran Next Week for Discussions
Senior IAEA officials are set to visit Tehran next Tuesday for a second round of discussions. Officials from the U.N. watchdog agency are reportedly hoping that Iran will explain findings outlined in the IAEA’s latest safeguards report on Iran, released in November 2011, describing past research and development efforts indicating military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear program. IAEA officials will also urge Iran to grant access to relevant documents, personnel, and sites. These discussions follow a first round last month that failed to reach an agreement.
Last week, the chief of the IAEA, Yukiya Amano, along with two deputies, attended an Iranian embassy event in Vienna marking the 33rd anniversary of the 1979 Iranian revolution. This gesture of goodwill by the IAEA was apparently well received by Iranian diplomats and taken as a positive sign, Iran’s Press TV reported. (Reuters 2/15)
Notable Opinion:
In a piece in Foreign Affairs, Hossein Mousavian, a research associate scholar at Princeton University and former Iranian nuclear negotiator, urged the U.S. to declare unconditionally that it does not seek to overthrow the Iranian regime. In his view, the core belief of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei that the U.S. seeks to topple the Islamic Republic presents a major obstacle for a rapprochement. As a result, he argues the U.S. should seek to dispel Iranian fears that its objective is regime change, in order to decrease tensions and heighten the chances for peaceful dialogue:

“The door to rapprochement is closing. To keep it from slamming shut, the United States should declare, without condition, that it does not seek regime change in Tehran. Beyond that, the recognition of several principles is essential to bettering U.S.-Iranian relations after more than 30 bad years. For starters, both governments should practice patience and try to show mutual goodwill.
For one, both the United States and Iran are eager to understand the other’s end game. Together, the two countries should draft a “grand agenda,” which would include nuclear and all other bilateral, international, and regional issues to be discussed; outline what the ultimate goal will be; and describe what each side can gain by achieving it.
The United States and Iran should also work together on establishing security and stability in Afghanistan and preventing the Taliban’s full return to power; securing and stabilizing Iraq; creating a Persian Gulf body to ensure regional stability; cooperating during accidents and emergencies at sea, ensuring freedom of navigation, and fighting piracy; encouraging development in Central Asia and the Caucasus; establishing a joint working group for combating the spread of weapons of mass destruction, terrorism; and eliminating weapons of mass destruction and drug trafficking in the Middle East. Finally, the two countries could do much good by strengthening the ties between their people through tourism, promoting academic and cultural exchanges, and facilitating visas.
It would be misguided for the United States to count on exploiting possible cleavages within the Iranian leadership. Iran’s prominent politicians have their differences — like those in all countries — but they will be united against foreign interference and aggression. Both capitals should also progressively reduce threat-making, hostile behavior, and punitive measures during engagement to prove that they seek a healthier relationship. Engagement policy should be accompanied by actual positive actions, not just words.”

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