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Top Iranian Nuclear Diplomat Interviewed by Arms Control Today
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Says Decision to Resume Uranium Enrichment Research "Irreversible" and Iran Wants to Negotiate Assurances on Non-diversion of Nuclear Material

For Immediate Release: January 26, 2006

Press Contacts: Daryl G. Kimball, (202) 463-8270 x107, Paul Kerr, (202) 463-8270 x102, and Oliver Meier (in Berlin) +49 171 359 2410

(Washington, D.C.): Iranian Ambassador Ali Asghar Soltanieh said January 23 that international concerns about the Tehran government's nuclear activities should be resolved through negotiations and at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) rather than the UN Security Council, which is the preferred U.S. and European approach. He also said that Iran is willing to work with the IAEA during its inspection visit this week in Iran "on the whole range of issues they want discussed."

Soltanieh, who is Iran's permanent representative to the IAEA, discussed the current crisis surrounding the Iranian nuclear program during an exclusive interview with Dr. Oliver Meier, international correspondent for Arms Control Today, which is the monthly journal of the Washington-based Arms Control Association.

An emergency meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors will begin on February 2 in response to Iran's recent renewal of "research" on uranium enrichment at its pilot facility at Natanz and its failure to respond to outstanding questions concerning the nature of its nuclear activities. Uranium must be enriched to produce nuclear fuel for power reactors, but the enrichment process can also produce highly enriched uranium, a fissile material that can be used to produce nuclear bombs.

Arms Control Today asked why Iran has chosen to break the 2004 pledge it made to France, Germany, and the United Kingdom to voluntarily suspend all uranium enrichment-related activities, while negotiations on "objective guarantees" about Iran's peaceful nuclear intentions continued. Amb. Soltanieh told Arms Control Today that it was Iran's belief in 2004 that "if we would extend our cooperative suspension [on enrichment-related activities] to cover research" at the uranium conversion facility at Isfahan and at the pilot enrichment facility at Natanz, "the issue will be removed from the agenda of the [IAEA] Board of Governors, and routine that inspections would be continued in Iran, and everything would be settled down."

"But," Soltanieh continued, "they didn't keep their promise. Instead, this whole thing continued, therefore after long frustration and seeing the Iran issue kept on the agenda of the Board of Governors, then we couldn't continue [with the suspension]. Therefore, we restarted this research."

The European trio have said they will not engage in further negotiations until Iran resumes the suspension of its voluntary uranium enrichment activities.

IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei first reported in 2003 that Iran had conducted clandestine nuclear activities in violation of its safeguards agreement with the agency. He reported Sept. 2 that a number of outstanding questions concerning Iran's nuclear programs-particularly its gas centrifuge-based uranium-enrichment program-still leave the IAEA unable to conclude that "there are no undeclared nuclear materials or activities in Iran." On September 24, the IAEA Board of Governors voted 22-1 (with 12 abstentions) that Iran was in violation of its comprehensive safeguards agreement with the IAEA.

Soltanieh condemned efforts to have the Iran nuclear matter referred to the Security Council as a path of "confrontation" that could be "very dangerous." Instead of taking "hasty measures," he suggested governments should be "patient" and resolve the matter within the IAEA and let "fruitful" negotiations between Iran and Russia proceed.

In an effort to resolve the crisis, Russia has floated an offer that would provide Iran with joint ownership in a uranium enrichment facility in Russia, in lieu of using enrichment facilities within Iran's borders. The proposal has been backed by the United States and others.

"The Russian proposal … is worthwhile. It is worth discussing and negotiating with them," Soltanieh said. A second round of talks between Iran and Russia on the proposal are set for Feb. 16. But he also noted that Iran wants to develop its own enrichment capabilities because "in the past we have had lack of assurance of supply."

He said that if Iran's case was to be referred the Security Council, "… then following the law almost unanimously passed by our parliament ... then the government [of Iran] would immediately stop the implementation of the Additional Protocol and we will start large-scale enrichment." Since 2003, Iran has voluntarily allowed the IAEA to operate under the authority of an additional inspection and monitoring protocol, which gives the agency broader investigative powers.

When asked what substantive contribution the United States could make to resolve the situation, Soltanieh responded: "Just support having the issue settled in the IAEA. Just do not put obstacles in the way…and just let the Europeans do their work, and do not underestimate the achievements we have made and let everything go in the right direction."

Arms Control Today also asked Soltanieh what steps Iran would be willing to take to resolve the agency's concerns and whether Iran might again suspend uranium enrichment activities to support a new set of negotiations. Soltanieh replied that the decision to pursue "enrichment research" is "irreversible," but added that "we are interested and have been interested to promote cooperation and work with the Europeans."

Soltanieh said, however, that Iran is now interested in narrowing the scope of negotiations with the Europeans. He said that "in order to have a conclusive negotiation and an effective one, we have decided in this new round of negotiation to focus on non-diversion of enrichment processes … on the large commercial industrial scale, which is now under suspension."

The full interview is available at: http://www.armscontrol.org/interviews/20060123_Soltanieh.asp

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