Wednesday, February 10, 2010

257) China: crucial on Iranian nuclear program (UNSC resolution)

Time’s Up
Iran's Nuclear Program
Editorial New York Times, February 9, 2010

Over the last four years, the United Nations Security Council has repeatedly demanded that Iran stop producing nuclear fuel. Iran is still churning out enriched uranium and has now told United Nations inspectors that it is raising the level of enrichment — moving slightly closer to bomb-grade quality.

President Obama was right to offer to negotiate with Tehran. Washington and its allies were right to look for possible compromises even after Tehran was caught — again — hiding an enrichment plant.

Enough is enough. Iran needs to understand that its nuclear ambition comes with a very high cost.

President Obama said on Tuesday that the United States and its allies are “moving along fairly quickly” on a new sanctions resolution. He also said it would take several weeks to draft a proposal. That is not reassuring. Once a resolution is written, the negotiating process typically drags on for weeks, if not months.

Iran is in such economic and political turmoil that its government may be more vulnerable to outside pressure. Security forces have expanded a crackdown on the political opposition, arresting hundreds of people ahead of Thursday’s anniversary of the Iranian revolution.

American officials say they are eager to impose sanctions that would inflict maximum damage on the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, which runs the nuclear program and a large chunk of the Iranian economy. The plan, as we understand it, is to block their banking, their shipping, their insurance. American officials also say they want to minimize the additional suffering of the Iranian people. That makes sense to us, although squaring the circle won’t be easy.

If the Security Council is to move ahead with sanctions that bite, Washington and its allies are going to have to step up the pressure on Russia and China — Iran’s two enablers, both with a veto — to go along.

Russia has signaled support for another resolution. If history is any guide, we fear Russia will sharply whittle down the impact. China, eager to buy ever more oil from Iran, is an even bigger obstacle. China needs to understand that ensuring reliable oil supplies would become a lot harder if the Middle East is roiled by a nuclear-armed Iran.

The more the Security Council temporizes, compromises and weakens these resolutions, the more defiant and ambitious Iran becomes. If the Security Council can’t act swiftly, or decisively, the United States and its allies will have to come up with their own tough sanctions. They should be making a backup plan right now.


Iran’s Nuclear Program

The Latest on Iran's Nuclear Program

* Feb. 9, 2010 10:07 AM ET Iran told the United Nations nuclear watchdog agency that it would begin enriching its stockpile of uranium for use in a medical reactor, prompting officials from the United States, France and Russia to call for stronger sanctions against Tehran.
* Feb. 3, 2010 Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad appears to back a dormant proposal to send the bulk of Iran's enriched uranium abroad, only weeks after rejecting the UN-brokered deal. Meanwhile, U.S. Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair says Iran's technical advancement in enrichment-related activities strengthens judgments in a 2007 National Intelligence Estimate that Iran is "keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons," but it remains unclear whether Tehran will eventually decide to do so. - Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
* Jan. 28, 2010 A day after President Obama warned Iran’s leaders of the external pressures they face if they fail on their nuclear obligations, Iran experts are offering their views on the country’s domestic turmoil. At, Iran scholars ponder the year ahead for leaders in Tehran. Reformist cleric Mehdi Karroubi, meanwhile, predicts Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s government will not finish its four-year term. – The Council on Foreign Relations
* Jan. 28, 2010 With President Barack Obama warning Iran and North Korea of increased isolation in his first State of the Union address, the United States will reportedly present the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany, a list of Iranian individuals and firms to target with sanctions. Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel signals support for broad-based sanctions as Siemens, Europe’s biggest engineering conglomerate, announced an end to business with Iran. - Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
* Jan. 20, 2010 With Washington preoccupied by health care reform, Haiti, and the Massachusetts Senate race, three significant developments on the Iran nuclear issue have gone largely unnoticed: the six major powers failed to agree on a new round of sanctions instead, a German company agreed to a massive new contract with Iran and Tehran formally rejected the International Atomic Energy Agency’s nuclear fuel deal.—William Tobey, Harvard's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.
* Jan. 18, 2010 After sending a lower-ranking representative to talks between the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany, China vetoed a fourth round of sanctions against Iran's disputed nuclear activites. Iran, meanwhile, hailed the indecision over further sanctions as a sign of "rationality." - Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
* Jan. 15, 2010 Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei says the mysterious killing of a scientist illustrates efforts by Iran's enemies "to strike a blow at the scientific movement of the country." But the assassination has raised more questions than answers. - The Council on Foreign Relations
* Jan. 12, 2010 The United States will meet with other UN Security Council members and Germany in New York later this week to discuss possible new sanctions over Iran's contested nuclear program. Some analysts argue tougher financial sticks are needed to force Iran's hand. - The Council on Foreign Relations
* Jan. 11, 2010 Politico's Laura Rozen reports that the United States is continuing negotiations with Iran over a nuclear fuel swap, despite the expiration of the end-of-year deadline for a deal set by President Barack Obama. - Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
* Jan. 8, 2010 Days after Taiwan indicated it had called off a probe into reports that local companies sold nuclear technology to Iran, the head of a Taiwanese company said he received an order from a Chinese firm to procure nuclear dual-use pressure transducers, which were then shipped to Iran, presumably for use in Iran's gas centrifuge program. - Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Updated: Feb. 9, 2010

Iran's nuclear program is one of the most polarizing issues in one of the world's most polarized regions. While American and European officials believe Tehran is planning to build nuclear weapons, Iran's leadership says that its goal in developing a nuclear program is to generate electricity without dipping into the oil supply it prefers to sell abroad, and to provide fuel for medical reactors.
Table of Contents

* Overview
* Iran's Nuclear History
* The Role of Israel
* Obama and Negotiations

After a long-running clandestine nuclear program was uncovered in 2003, Iran suspended the program, allowed international inspectors in and began negotiations with Britain, France and Germany. But after hardliners solidified their power with the election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005, Iran has taken an increasingly confrontational line, restarting its enrichment program and ignoring demands from the United Nations Security Council to stop.

American officials and international inspectors are concerned that Iran seems to have made significant progress in the three technologies necessary to field an effective nuclear weapon: enriching uranium to weapons grade; developing a missile capable of reaching Israel and parts of Western Europe; and designing a warhead that will fit on the missile. And in late September 2009, Iran said that its Revolutionary Guards test-fired missiles with sufficient range to strike Israel, parts of Europe and American bases in the Persian Gulf.

President Obama broke with President George W. Bush's policy by offering to negotiate directly with Tehran, but he continued to call the program a threat to the region. And like Mr. Bush, he initially found it difficult to persuade Russia and China to consider imposing tough sanctions on Iran if the talks failed.

On Sept. 25, 2009, President Obama and leaders of Britain and France accused Iran of building a secret underground plant to manufacture nuclear fuel, saying the country has hidden the covert operation from international weapons inspectors for years.

In talks with the United States and other major powers on Oct.1, the first such discussions in which the United States had participated fully, Iran agreed to open the newly revealed plant to international inspection within two weeks. It also agreed to send most of its openly declared enriched uranium outside Iran to be turned into fuel for a small reactor that produces medical isotopes.

In the months that followed, Tehran alternated bellicose statements with counterproposals that fell short of the goal the Obama administration had in mind -- temporarily reducing the amount of enriched uranium Iran has on hand, to create a longer window for diplomacy. A year-end deadline set by the United Nations for halting enrichment passed.

On February 9, 2010, Iran said that it had begun enriching uranium for use in a medical reactor to a higher level of purity. The United States responded by saying it would seek United Nations backing for new sanctions.
Iran's Nuclear History

Iran's first nuclear program began in the 1960s under the shah. It made little progress, and was abandoned after the 1979 revolution, which brought to power the hard-line Islamic regime. In the mid-1990s, a new effort began, raising suspicions in Washington and elsewhere. Iran insisted that it was living up to its obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, but in 2002, an exile group obtained documents revealing a clandestine program. Faced with the likelihood of international sanctions, the government of Mohammad Khatami agreed in 2003 to suspend work on uranium enrichment and allow a stepped-up level of inspections by the International Atomic Energy Association while continuing negotiations with Britain, France and Germany.

In August 2005, Mr. Khatami, a relative moderate, was succeeded as president by Mr. Ahmadinejad, a hard-line conservative. Five months later, Iran announced that it was resuming work on turning uranium into a gaseous form, the first step in the so-called fuel cycle. The following January, Iran announced that it would resume enrichment work, leading the three European nations to break off their long-running talks. Under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran has the right to enrich uranium, but the atomic energy association called for the program to be halted until questions about the earlier, secret program were resolved.

The United Nations Security Council voted in December 2006 to impose sanctions on Iran for failing to heed calls for a suspension. Iranian scientists continued the work of building a series of centrifuges that concentrate uranium by spinning the gas at very high speeds.

In Washington, administration hawks, led by Vice President Dick Cheney, were reported to favor consideration of more aggressive measures, including possible air strikes, while Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice pushed for more diplomacy.

The situation was muddied in December 2007 when American intelligence agencies issued a new National Intelligence Estimate that concluded that the weapons portion of the Iranian nuclear program remained on hold. Contradicting the assessment made in 2005, the report stated that the Iranian government did not appear determined to obtain nuclear weapons, although it said Iran's intentions were unclear, and that the country probably could not produce a bomb until the middle of the next decade.
The Role of Israel

In 2008, President Bush deflected a secret request by Israel for specialized bunker-busting bombs it wanted for an attack on Iran's main nuclear complex and told the Israelis that he had authorized new covert action intended to sabotage Iran's suspected effort to develop nuclear weapons, according to senior American and foreign officials.

The White House denied Israel's request to fly over Iraq to reach Iran's major nuclear complex at Natanz, American officials said, and the Israelis backed off their plans, at least temporarily. But the tense exchanges also prompted the White House to step up intelligence-sharing with Israel and brief Israeli officials on new American efforts to subtly sabotage Iran's nuclear infrastructure.

Iran's announcement in February, 2010 that it would begin enriching its stockpile of uranium drew a furious response from Israel, which has said it would regard an Iranian nuclear weapon as an existential threat. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told European diplomats that the sanctions needed to progress quickly.
Obama and Negotiations

Mr. Obama first made waves with his views on Iran policy back in 2007, when he said during a Democratic debate in Charleston, S.C., that he would, as president, be willing to meet without preconditions with Iran's leaders, and that the notion of not talking to one's foes was "ridiculous."

Since becoming president, though, Mr. Obama's stance has become more confrontational.

On Sept. 9, 2009, it was revealed that American intelligence agencies had concluded that Iran had created enough nuclear fuel to make a rapid, if risky, sprint for a nuclear weapon. But new intelligence reports delivered to the White House say that the country has deliberately stopped short of the critical last steps to make a bomb.

On Sept. 25, Mr. Obama, along with Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain and President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, revealed the existence of the secret underground plant. American officials said they had been tracking the project for years, but that the president decided to make public the American findings after Iran discovered that the secrecy surrounding the project had been breached.

Several days before the announcement, Iran wrote a brief, cryptic letter to the International Atomic Energy Agency, saying that it now had a "pilot plant" under construction, whose existence it had never before revealed.

Iran claims that its continuing enrichment program is for peaceful purposes, that the uranium is solely for electric power and medical reactors and that its scientists have never researched weapons design, but Mr. Obama said that the size and type of the secret facility undermines that assertion.

On Oct. 1, 2009, talks were held between Iran and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council - the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France - as well as Germany, and led by the European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana.

Iran's agreement in principle to export most of its enriched uranium for processing, if it occurs, would represent a major accomplishment for the West, reducing Iran's ability to make a nuclear weapon quickly and buying more time for negotiations to bear fruit. If Iran has secret stockpiles of enriched uranium, however, the accomplishment would be hollow.

The news raised a tumult in Iran, with conservative politicians arguing that the West could not be trusted to return the uranium. Shortly after the accord was announced, Iran began raising objections and backtracking. On Oct. 29 it told the U.N.'s chief nuclear inspector that it was rejecting the deal.

The United Nations set a deadline of Dec. 31 for Iran to comply with the tentative agreement. Two days after that expired, Iran issued what it called an "ultimatum'' giving the West one month to agree to a counteroffer, whose details were not divulged. Its nuclear officials had earlier said they would agree to a swap of nuclear fuel either in Iran or in Turkey, but that would not have the effect of temporarily reducing the amount of enriched uranium Iran has on hand, postponing the time when it becomes capable of building a bomb.

On February 9, 2010, Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, said scientists at the Natanz nuclear facility south of Tehran began processing uranium to a purity level of 20 percent to provide fuel for a research reactor producing medical isotopes, according to Iranian state media. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is said to have personally ordered his atomic scientists to begin the process.

Enriching uranium to 20-percent purity is high enough for use in a medical reactor but significantly lower than the 90-percent levels needed for nuclear weapons. The worry is that any effort to produce 20-percent enriched uranium would put the country in a position to produce weapons-grade uranium in a comparatively short time, nuclear experts say.

It remains far from clear that Iran has the capability to enrich fuel to the 20-percent purity ordered by Mr. Ahmadinejad, who is apparently seeking to increase pressure on the West to reopen negotiations on providing fuel for the medical reactor on terms more favorable to Tehran. Indeed, Mr. Salehi, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, was quoted by Reuters as suggesting that Tehran’s planned enrichment efforts would be halted if Iran received fuel enriched to 20 percent from abroad.

The decision by Iran to pursue further enrichment elicited sharp reactions in several countries. The United States has been seeking United Nations backing for new sanctions, and has been talking with Britain and France, its closest allies on the United Nations Security Council, as well as Germany.

Even in Russia, which along with China has consistently resisted sanctions against Iran, there have been indications of mounting concern about the Iranian nuclear program. If Russia does join the other world powers in backing President Obama’s call for tougher United Nations sanctions, that would isolate China, which has said such action could make finding a diplomatic solution to the nuclear crisis even more difficult.

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