On a roadmap to ease nuclear tensions

Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have failed to achieve a breakthrough, after two days of talks, on a roadmap to ease nuclear tensions surrounding Iran's atomic programme.

Early on Wednesday, the IAEA issued a statement which said despite intensive discussions, the two sides could not sign a document which could have clarified whether Tehran's nuclear programme had a military dimension. “Intensive efforts were made to reach agreement on a document facilitating the clarification of unresolved issues in connection with Iran's nuclear programme, particularly those relating to possible military dimensions,” said the statement. “Unfortunately, agreement was not reached on this document.”

Iran also barred the IAEA team, led by the Agency's deputy director Herman Nackaerts to visit a military site in Parchin, where, there are suspicions that Iran has carried out high explosives testing related to the development of atomic weapons. IAEA chief Yukiya Amano expressed disappointment over the Iran's decision to deny the IAEA team access to the facility. “We engaged in a constructive spirit, but no agreement was reached,” he said. In November, an IAEA report said Parchin housed a large cylindrical chamber which could withstand a force generated if 70 kg of high explosives was detonated. “It remains for Iran to explain the rationale behind these activities,” the report noted.

Countering these assertions, Iran has asserted that under the rules of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) it is not obliged to open up its military facilities to the inspections of the IAEA. However, as a confidence building measure, it did provide the IAEA inspectors limited access to the facility in January 2005. Consequently, the Agency's report in February 2006 noted that the IAEA “did not observe any unusual activities in the buildings visited, and the results of the analysis of environmental samples did not indicate the presence of nuclear material at those locations”.

Iran chose to deliver a mixed response to the latest visit by the IAEA team. Iran's permanent representative to the Agency Ali Asghar Soltanieh said Tehran would hold further talks” with the IAEA over its civilian nuclear programme. However, Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast did acknowledge that the latest round, concluded on Tuesday, would likely have a bearing on the proposed dialogue with the six global powers. “We should wait and see what issues that will result from the [IAEA] delegation's visit to Iran and what effects they will have in our negotiations with the Group 5+1 [the five permanent U.N. Security Council members plus Germany],” he said during his weekly press conference in Tehran.

The West has threatened to use military force against Iran, in case diplomacy fails to yield a breakthrough. But on Tuesday, a top Iranian General said far from being intimidated, Iran was prepared for all eventualities, including taking pre-emptive action. “We do not wait for enemies to take action against us,” said General Mohammed Hejazi, Fars news agency reports. “We will use all our means to protect our national interests.”

Adding credence to the General's assertion, Iran has begun a massive military exercise, covering a vast area of 19,000 sq km.

The purpose of these manoeuvres, codenamed “Sarollah” or God's Vengeance is to simulate protection of all “nuclear centres” from possible air strikes. The four-day exercise intends to integrate missile defence systems, radars and interceptor planes in southern Iran.

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