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Iran, new Amano term in focus at IAEA meeting
by Staff Writers
Vienna (AFP) March 02, 2013

Talks gave Iran more time for atomic weapon: Israel
Jerusalem (AFP) March 2, 2013 - Nuclear talks between Iran and world powers have only given the Islamic republic more time to pursue its quest for a nuclear weapon, a senior Israeli official told AFP on Saturday.

Two days of talks on Tehran's controversial atomic drive with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council -- the United States, China, Russia, Britain and France -- plus Germany ended on Wednesday.

The latest round of talks, in the Kazakh capital Almaty, were aimed at breaking the decades-old deadlock over Iran's atomic programme.

"We understand that the only thing that was achieved in these talks was to give Iran more time to move ahead in its quest for a nuclear weapon," the Israeli official said.

The official said that after the talks, US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman arrived in Israel and briefed Israeli National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror over the weekend.

The US State Department had on Wednesday called the talks "useful," while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that if Iran does not heed calls to halt its nuclear programme, it should face "a military sanction."

Israel and much of the West believes Iran's nuclear programme to be a cover for building an atomic weapons capability, a charge which Tehran strongly denies.

Netanyahu has repeatedly called for the world to lay down a clear red line for Iran which, if crossed, could spark harsh repercussions.

Israel, the Middle East's sole if undeclared nuclear power, believes Iran must be prevented from reaching a military nuclear capability at any cost, and has refused to rule out a preemptive military strike to stop it.

Movement in nuclear talks, but onus on Iran: UN chief
Geneva (AFP) March 01, 2013 - UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Friday that the ball remained in Iran's court over its contested nuclear programme, though he was encouraged by new feelers being put out by Tehran and the West.

"I am encouraged that, at their recent talks in Almaty, the P5+1 and Iran agreed on dates and venues for further meetings soon," Ban told reporters in Geneva.

"The onus remains on Iran to gain the confidence and trust of the international community," he added.

The P5+1 refers to the five permanent members of the UN Security Council -- the United States, China, Russia, Britain and France -- plus Germany who are negotiating with Iran.

Their talks have long been deadlocked, with Iran rejecting Western claims that it aims to arm itself with atomic weapons and says its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes.

But a two-day session this week in Kazakhstan's economic capital Almaty yielded an agreement to meet again at the level of senior civil servants on March 17-18 in Istanbul, and then with chief negotiators in Almaty on April 5-6.

The meeting saw the P5+1 offer Iran a softening of non-oil or financial sector-related sanctions in exchange for concessions over Tehran's sensitive uranium enrichment operations.

The offer reportedly involves easing crippling sanctions on Iran's gold and precious metals trade and lifting some very small banking operations.

In return, it demands a tougher weapons inspection regime and the interruption of enrichment operations at the feared Fordo bunker facility where enrichment goes on.

Deadlocked talks with Iran will be in focus at a meeting of the UN nuclear agency's board from Monday, together with a possible new term for director general Yukiya Amano.

Western powers, however, are expected to refrain from upping the ante against Tehran at the meeting in Vienna in order not to jeopardize parallel diplomatic efforts by six world powers, diplomats said.

"My own instinct is that there won't be an Iran resolution," from the 35-nation International Atomic Energy Agency board of governors, one diplomat told AFP. "But its not definite yet."

This is despite the fact that Iran refuses to give the IAEA access to sites, documents and scientists involved in what the agency suspects were efforts, mostly in the past but possibly ongoing, to develop nuclear weapons.

More than a year of meetings, the latest on February 13 in Tehran, have failed to agree on a so-called "structured approach" to address these allegations.

The agency also conducts regular inspections of Iran's declared nuclear sites and its quarterly reports routinely outline advances in its atomic programme in spite of UN Security Council resolutions calling for a suspension.

The latest report, issued February 21, said that Iran had begun installing at its Natanz plant more advanced centrifuges to speed up uranium enrichment, a process at the heart of the international community's concerns.

Enriched uranium can be used for peaceful purposes but also, in highly purified form, in a nuclear weapon. Iran denies this is its aim.

Tehran says that the IAEA's conclusions about the "possible military dimensions" of its programme are based on flawed information from Western and Israeli spy agencies, information that it says it has not been allowed to see.

At a stormy IAEA board meeting in November, Iran's envoy Ali Asghar Soltanieh said that no "smoking gun" had ever been found and that the West wants to hijack the IAEA for its own ends.

The US envoy shot back that Washington would seek in March to convince the IAEA board to report Iran to the UN Security Council if no "substantive cooperation" had begun over the IAEA's probe.

But in view of apparent tentative progress made at talks in Kazakhstan last Tuesday and Wednesday between Iran and six world powers, the United States and its allies in Vienna appear to have rowed back from this threat.

Those talks saw the P5+1 -- the US, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany -- sweeten an offer made to Iran last year, scaling back some of their demands and offering more relief from sanctions.

Technical experts from both sides are meant to begin thrashing out the details on March 17-18 in Istanbul before chief negotiators return to Almaty on April 5-6.

-- 'Solidly in the US court'? --

Western countries were meanwhile hoping that in the closed-door meeting, scheduled to last four days, the IAEA board would approve Amano being given a second four-year term.

The 65-year-old Japanese is the only candidate but formal board approval might be delayed until June or even September -- his current term runs to December -- if any countries have misgivings.

US diplomatic cables from 2009 published by WikiLeaks said Amano was "solidly in the US court on every key strategic decision" and "DG of all states, but in agreement with us."

This irked some countries who feared Amano was a US stooge, as did his decision to publish in November 2011 a detailed analysis of the IAEA's information on Iran's suspected past weaponisation work.

His predecessor Mohamed ElBaradei, who had a distinctly less cosy relationship with Washington, said in his autobiography that he resisted for years "behind-the-scenes" US, French, British and German pressure to publish such a summary.


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