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(Updates with ambassador’s comment in the 11th paragraph, Parchin inspections from the 20th.)
Feb. 22 (Bloomberg) -- Officials from the International Atomic Energy Agency, sent to Iran to defuse tensions over the country’s nuclear program, were denied access to a military base and said the talks “couldn’t finalize a way forward.”
The IAEA inspectors were refused permission to visit the Parchin base during two days of meetings that ended yesterday. Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, told state television that officials discussed grounds for cooperation and further talks will be held. He didn’t elaborate.
“We couldn’t get access and we couldn’t finalize a way forward,” the IAEA’s chief inspector, Herman Nackaerts, told reporters in Vienna today upon his return from Tehran. Nackaerts was accompanied by Jacques Baute, a French nuclear-weapons scientist, Laura Rockwood, a U.S. legal expert at the agency and Rafael Grossi, the IAEA’s political affairs director.
Allegations about the possible military aim of Iran’s nuclear program have led the U.S. and the European Union to tighten economic sanctions. The U.S. and Israel haven’t ruled out air strikes against Iran’s atomic facilities, escalating tensions in a region that’s home to 54 percent of global oil reserves.
“It is disappointing that Iran did not accept our request to visit Parchin during the first or second meetings,” IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano said in a statement posted on the organization’s Facebook page. “We engaged in a constructive spirit, but no agreement was reached.”
Nackaerts declined to answer questions on whether Iran denied the IAEA team immediate access to Parchin or whether the Persian Gulf nation also ruled out requests for future visits.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast underlined yesterday that the high-level IAEA officials were in Iran for talks and their trip was separate from routine inspections of Iranian nuclear facilities that the agency conducts.
“Iran has never been after nuclear weapons and never will be,” the country’s highest authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said today in a statement. “The Islamic Republic considers possessing nuclear weapons, from an intellectual and religious point of view, as a big crime and believes it to be unnecessary, harmful and dangerous.”
The risk of a military conflict was underscored yesterday when an Iranian general said his nation would consider pre- emptive action if it is threatened.
“We will no more wait to see enemy action against us,” the state-run Fars news agency quoted Mohammad Hejazi, deputy head of the general staff of the Iranian Armed Forces, as saying. Iranian officials had said in recent weeks that they would not attack another country first and their actions would be solely retaliatory.
Iran tried to defuse tension created by the comments today in Moscow where Iranian Ambassador Mahmoud-Reza Sajjadi said pre-emptive attacks weren’t part of his country’s policy. China may host a new round of negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, he said.
Crude oil for April delivery gained 7 cents to $106.32 a barrel at 11:15 a.m. on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract earlier rose to $106.47, the highest level since May 5.
Iran said on Feb. 20 it had stopped selling crude to France and Britain in retaliation for an EU decision to stop buying its oil as of July 1. The EU and U.S. are tightening sanctions in order to pressure Iran’s leaders to make concessions on its nuclear program, which the country says is for civilian uses.
Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said his country wanted the “best relations possible” with the EU and urged the bloc to revisit its policies. Iran sent the EU a letter last week asking for negotiations at the “earliest opportunity.”
Two former United Nations weapons inspectors said yesterday it isn’t too late for diplomacy to resolve the dispute. They warned that a military strike would probably compel Iran to expel the IAEA and deprive the international community of surveillance of a nuclear program that Western nations say is being used to develop nuclear weapons.
“The worst thing I can imagine right now is something short of war that causes the Iranians to kick the IAEA out,” Robert Kelley, a nuclear scientist and former UN chief weapons inspector in Iraq, said at a forum in Washington.
He was accompanied by former IAEA head Hans Blix, who said inspections were essential in monitoring Iran’s work.
The IAEA operates cameras and conducts regular, as well as surprise visits, to declared nuclear sites including the country’s Fordo and Natanz enrichment centers, reactors in Bushehr and Tehran and a uranium metallurgical laboratory in Isfahan. Inspectors make regular measurements of Iran’s nuclear material in order to track how much uranium the country has for peaceful or non-peaceful purposes.
While the IAEA has continued to verify Iran isn’t diverting its existing uranium stockpile, the UN Security Council demanded in a resolution that the country open additional facilities to investigation. In addition to suspicions regarding Parchin, the IAEA reported Nov. 8 that Iran may have tested explosives designed for its Shahab-3 missile warhead in Marivan. Iran also has uranium mines and centrifuge workshops that fall outside of existing safeguards.
Parchin is a military base 30 kilometers (18 miles) southwest of Tehran. The IAEA suspected nuclear activities at the site in 2004 when Tehran’s government allowed inspectors access to parts of the sprawling facility. The agency reported in September 2004 that they didn’t find anything.
The IAEA reported in November that more recent information and satellite-imagery analysis indicated Iran may have been conducting high-explosives tests at Parchin of components needed for a nuclear weapon. Inspectors aren’t allowed onto the base, which may house a test-blast chamber built in 2000, because it isn’t a declared nuclear facility.
IAEA inspection agreements with Iran only allow it access to declared sites. Binding UN Security Council resolutions against Iran demand that the country strengthen its nuclear- inspection agreements with the agency.
Israeli leaders say there is limited time left to carry out an effective strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities before they are secure from attack. The countries accuse each other of bombings and assassinations, with Israel blaming Iran for car bomb attacks last week in India and Georgia and the Persian Gulf nation blaming Israel for the murder of several of its nuclear scientists.
--With assistance from Stepan Kravchenko in Moscow, Indira A.R. Lakshmanan in Washington, Digby Lidstone in Cairo and John Brinsley in Tokyo. Editors: Leon Mangasarian, Ben Holland
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