Iran took two steps to ease tensions over its nuclear ambitions early this month: opening channels of negotiation with the EU3 of the UK, France and Germany; and allowing IAEA inspections at a non-nuclear military site. The country, however, remains committed to mastering the nuclear fuel cycle.
The moves come after the adoption on 24 September of an IAEA resolution which declared the country in non-compliance with the requirements of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Safeguards Agreement and effectively set up Iran for UN Security Council sanctions.
Hamid Pirzadeh, a political science expert at Tehran University said that the country was “doing everything to avoid referral to the council. Iran is not strong enough to withstand sanctions.”
The USA suspects that Iran has experimented with conventional trigger charges for atomic weapons at Parchin, 30km south east of the capital Tehran. However, the Western powers have waited a long time for Iran to grant the IAEA access to the military facility, which as an officially non-nuclear site is not covered under the safeguards agreement.
Environmental swipes taken at the facility will not be analysed in time for the next IAEA board meeting on 24 November at which referral to the Security Council could be approved by majority vote.
Separately, letters were sent by Iranian chief negotiator Ali Larijani to the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany offering to re-start negotiations with the EU3, which has acted as a counterbalance to the USA in Western efforts to persuade Iran to give up uranium enrichment.
The last round of negotiations came to an end in August when Iran removed IAEA seals and resumed activity at the Isfahan uranium conversion facility, rejecting an offer of economic and political incentives in the process. The EU3 has demanded that such activity ceases before returning to the negotiating table but it is hard to see the way to compromise: Hamid Reza Asefi, spokesman for the Iranian foreign ministry, said the EU3 had been told that his countrymen would “never abandon our right to the nuclear fuel cycle.”
The EU3 has so far not responded to the Iranian invitation.