– UN team have no plans to inspect Iranian nuclear facilities (Independent/AP, Feb. 21, 2012):
A United Nations team visiting Iran have no plans to inspect the country’s nuclear facilities but will only hold talks with officials in Tehran, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said today.
Ramin Mehmanparast said the experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency are holding discussions in the capital to “accelerate” co-operation with the UN watchdog. He added that co-operation is at its “best” level.
The two-day IAEA visit, which started yesterday, is the second in less than a month by the UN team amid growing concerns over alleged Iranian weapons experiments.
Yesterday, Iranian radio said the UN team had asked to visit a military complex outside Tehran which is suspected to be a secret weapons-making location.
Iran denies charges by the West that it is developing nuclear weapons.
– Iran holds anti-aircraft exercises as nuclear inspectors arrive (Telegraph, Feb. 20, 2012):
The announcement came as the country’s Foreign Minister announced that inspectors from the UN’s nuclear watchdog would be barred from nuclear sites during their two day visit.
The IAEA inspectors arrived Monday for two days of talks in the Islamic Republic in an atmosphere of growing tension and concern over a potential conflict.
Their arrival also coincided with increasing speculation that Israel was mulling air strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
“These exercises aim to reinforce the integrated abilities of the country’s anti-air defences,” said a statement from the Katem-ol-Anbia military air base coordinating Iran’s anti-air and ballistic missile systems.
Missiles, anti-aircraft artillery, radars and warplanes were being deployed, it said.
“These manoeuvres aim to reinforce the coordination between the military and the Revolutionary Guards for a total coverage of the country’s sensitive facilities, especially nuclear sites,” the statement said.
The exercises, named “Sarollah” (a word borrowed from Arabic meaning “God’s vengeance”), covered a zone of 190,000 square kilometres (73,400 square miles) in southern Iran, it said.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said earlier it was hoping for “concrete results” from the two days of talks focused on “the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear programme”.
But the delegation’s leader, chief UN nuclear inspector Herman Nackaerts, cautioned progress “may take a while”. His careful choice of words suggested little expectation the meeting will be successful.
That expectation was largely fulfilled when Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi told the student news agency ISNA that the IAEA officials would not be going to any nuclear sites. “No. Their work has just begun,” Salehi said.
The Islamic Republic has in recent days flaunted what it said was “major” nuclear progress, declaring it was adding thousands more centrifuges to its uranium enrichment activities and producing what it said was 20-per cent enriched nuclear fuel.
The IAEA, which in November issued a report voicing strong suspicions that Iran was researching an atomic weapon and missile warheads, confirmed last month that a new, fortified uranium enrichment plant outside Iran’s holy city of Qom had been activated.
This trip is the second in less than a month by the IAEA team, reflecting growing concerns over the programme.
The West has ratcheted up its sanctions to try to force Iran to stop enrichment, but with no success so far.
Iran has taken an increasingly defiant stance against Western sanctions and Israeli threats of military action against it – including banning oil exports to France and Britain.
Israel, which believes its existence is threatened by a nuclear Iran, has stepped up its warnings that it could launch air strikes, prompting the United States and Britain to urge restraint.
Tom Donilon, President Barack Obama’s national security advisor, arrived in Israel for emergency talks with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Reiterating concerns raised to The Daily Telegraph last week, Mr Hague said the world faced the real risk of conflict or the prospect that an Iran armed with a nuclear weapon would result in a second Cold War if economic sanctions did not force Tehran to change course.
“They would either be attacked and there would be a war, or there would be a cold war in which Iran for the long term would be subject to these very intense economic sanctions and they would find that other nations in their region developed nuclear weapons,” he said. Mr Haugue added that Israel has not shared its plans with the UK.
Responding to Mr Hague’s stark warning on condition of anonymity, a senior source within the Israeli government said that Israel received the Foreign Secretary’s comments with “gravity and seriousness”, adding that Israel would continue to communicate with the British government through diplomatic channels.
“There are regular talks taking place behind closed doors,” the Israeli official added. “I think Mr Hague knows very well that he does not want us to share our plans with the UK because shared plans means shared responsibility, and the British government doesn’t want that.”
According to US government officials quoted by Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, the Obama administration believes Israel is likely to launch a military attack on Iran in a matter of months.
Leon Panetta, the US defence secretary, has predicted that Israel will launch a strike in April or June.
The Netanyahu government is yet to issue an official response to Mr Panetta’s prediction of war or the requests for caution issued by Mr Hague and his counterparts.
Gen Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said it would be “premature” to take military action against Iran in response to its nuclear activities.
“I think it would be premature to exclusively decide that the time for a military option was upon us,” Gen Dempsey said. “I think that the economic sanctions and the international cooperation that we’ve been able to gather around sanctions is beginning to have an effect,”
Ehud Barak, Israel’s defence minister, has also insisted that an Israeli strike is unlikely in the near future. He called instead for further “crippling and consequential” sanctions against Iran.
While Israel has expressed meagre satisfaction with the impact of the economic sanctions already applied on the Iranian regime, Israeli defence chiefs insist that international community must go further.
As one senior Israeli government official said recently, “Any measure that doesn’t stop Iran’s nuclear programme is inadequate”.
Both the US and Britain believe Israel “give sanctions a chance” to prevent Iranian nuclear armament, while leaving “no options are the off the table”.