The Financial Times (UK) reported Wednesday that U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton said in a Fox News interview that he believed "the United States and its friends should be pursuing [regime change in Iran and North Korea] on their own, because that is our ultimate objective."  --  The U.S. is currently at odds with the EU3 powers with regard to a resolution addressing Iran's nuclear program; "European diplomats said they had clashed with Mr. Bolton, rejecting his attempt to include a provision that would stop Russia supplying nuclear fuel to the Iranian reactor under construction at Bushehr. Some European officials suggested Mr. Bolton was 'freelancing' and did not have the backing of Washington for a position that was sure to antagonize Russia," Guy Dinmore reported.  --  Reuters reported that the EU3 draft was being circulated among the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council without the U.S.'s approval, hinting between the lines, like the Financial Times, that Bolton was responsible for the breakdown of EU3-U.S. unity on Iran.[2]  --  Meanwhile, on Monday two anonymous diplomats (one a "senior diplomat familiar with U.N. nuclear inspections in Iran") were reported by Reuters to have said that "Iran has launched a second batch of centrifuges at its pilot nuclear fuel plant," though when examined in detail the allegations amounted to very little.[3]  --  Later that day the New York Times twisted remarks by IAEA Director Mohammed ElBaradei to make them seem to be a confirmation of this report, which they were not, and gave its article a misleading, alarmist headline.[4]  --  Elsewhere the news was widely presented as the ominous start-up of a second cascade, which it was not.[5]  --  The anonymously sourced report cannot but be viewed with suspicion in the context of the present tense and propaganda-laden situation. ...



Middle East & Africa

By Guy Dinmore

Financial Times (UK)
October 25, 2006

Imposing economic and political sanctions against Iran and North Korea will help democratic forces in those countries as Washington pursues its "ultimate objective" of regime change, John Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said yesterday.

Mr. Bolton's comments, to Fox News, reflect the views of hardliners in the Bush administration who doubt that the threat of nuclear proliferation can be dealt with through negotiations.

Although the U.S. denies it is pursuing a "regime change" policy towards what it calls the "axis of evil," Mr. Bolton's linking of sanctions with "democratic forces" are likely to complicate delicate coalition-building efforts by Condoleezza Rice, secretary of state.

Last week Ms. Rice went to Japan, South Korea, China, and Russia to co-ordinate the implementation of U.N. sanctions imposed against North Korea in response to its underground nuclear weapon test. This week the focus shifts to New York where the U.S. and Europe are working on a sanctions resolution for Iran.

European diplomats said they had clashed with Mr. Bolton, rejecting his attempt to include a provision that would stop Russia supplying nuclear fuel to the Iranian reactor under construction at Bushehr. Some European officials suggested Mr. Bolton was "freelancing" and did not have the backing of Washington for a position that was sure to antagonize Russia.

Diplomats said France, Germany, and the U.K. would put forward a narrowly focused draft resolution soon. U.S. officials declined to comment.

Asked by Fox News why the U.N. did not try to encourage political change in Iran and North Korea, Mr. Bolton said talk of changing authoritarian regimes into democracies would "make a lot of countries unhappy."

He went on: "But I think that's something the United States and its friends should be pursuing on their own, because that is our ultimate objective. If you had countries that were responsive to the public will -- unlike, say, North Korea or Iran -- I think the odds are considerably reduced that they'd want to spend their scarce resources on nuclear weapons."

The U.S., he said, wanted to mobilize international support to isolate those regimes economically and politically. "That puts pressure on them internally. I think that helps democratic forces in those countries or in their diasporas." But he also suggested that change would not happen soon.

Analysts in Tehran say his remarks will not encourage Iran to resume talks under the U.S.-imposed condition that it first suspend its uranium enrichment program.


By Carol Giacomo and Arshad Mohammed

October 25, 2006

Original source: Reuters

WASHINGTON -- Key European states on Tuesday circulated their own draft resolution imposing nuclear and missile-related sanctions on Iran after failing to reach agreement with Washington, U.S. and European officials said.

A senior U.S. official predicted the dispute ultimately would be resolved but it was unclear when that might happen.

A unified front among Britain, France, Germany -- lead negotiators with Iran -- and the United States has been key to international efforts to curb Tehran's nuclear program, which the West says is aimed at making weapons and Iran says is for energy production.

However, the allies split over some issues, including a U.S. demand that Russia be forced to halt work at Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant, U.S. officials and European diplomats said.

"The Europeans have told the United States that we're going to circulate the text among the permanent five members of the U.N. Security Council and planned to do it today," one diplomat said.

But a senior U.S. official told Reuters: "On Bushehr, I think they'll solve it" by allowing some work on the project -- worth an estimated $800 million (427 million pounds) to Russia -- to proceed.

"It'll just be a matter of where you draw the line. Do you allow construction but not delivery of fuel? How do you work it? I think it'll probably get worked (out)," said the official, who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the discussions.

Officials later said the European draft had been shared with Russia, China, and the United States.

Russia, like China, has been hesitant about sanctions, and U.S. and European officials were concerned Moscow might block the resolution if there was no exemption for Bushehr, which is due to begin operation next year.


Russia and China, like the United States, France, and Britain, are permanent veto-wielding Security Council members.

The European-drafted resolution would ban most nuclear and missile cooperation with Iran, according to portions of a draft version read to Reuters. It would halt overseas financial transactions and travel by Iranians involved in the nuclear program, except for certain humanitarian-related trips.

"States shall take necessary measures to prevent the supply, sale, or transfer directly or indirectly from their territories or by their nationals or using their flag vessels or aircraft to, or for the use in or benefit of, Iran and whether or not originating in their territories, of all items, materials, equipment, goods, and technology which could contribute to Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile programs," the draft states.

States should also "take the necessary measures to prevent the provision to Iran of technical assistance or training, financial assistance, investment brokering, or other services and the transfer of financial resources or services related to Iran's nuclear or ballistic missile programs," it says.

The draft exempts "construction" of Bushehr and appears to allow some 1,500 Russians to continue working at the site in southwestern Iran, said the European diplomat.

The exemption does not extend to fuel deliveries, the diplomat said, meaning Russia would not be permitted to fuel the reactor, which it promised under contract to do in 2007.

Nuclear-related technical assistance to Iran by the International Atomic Energy Agency would be limited to "medical or humanitarian purposes" or "safety standards," according to the draft.

The diplomat said most IAEA technical cooperation concerns safety issues at Bushehr and thus could continue.

The reactor became a last-minute stumbling block to the sanctions resolution, which senior diplomats had predicted would be given to Russia and China last week.

At the time, U.S. and European officials said that to dissuade Russia from blocking U.N. action, Moscow would be permitted to continue work on Bushehr even if the U.N. Security Council imposed sanctions on Iran.

But Washington decided to push for halting all work on the project, U.S. officials and diplomats said.

U.S. officials were reluctant to discuss the issue and it was unclear where opposition in the Bush administration -- which has often been divided on Iran and North Korea -- was coming from. Some suggested Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was comfortable with the European formula, allowing Russia to continue construction but barring fuel deliveries.

But there are other issues dividing the United States and the Europeans, the official said without giving details.

The major powers have threatened sanctions since Iran ignored a U.N. demand to suspend uranium enrichment by August 31.



By Mark Heinrich

October 23, 2006

Original source: Reuters

VIENNA -- Iran has launched a second batch of centrifuges at its pilot nuclear fuel plant despite possible U.N. Security Council sanctions, diplomats said.

Tehran fired up the new cascade of 164 interconnected centrifuges, which can enrich uranium for either power plant or nuclear bomb fuel, earlier this month to go with an initial network of 164, they said.

But Iran appeared to be only testing the second cascade, without feeding "UF6" uranium gas into it, as it has generally done with the first cascade, which first yielded a tiny amount of home-grown enriched uranium in April.

A senior diplomat familiar with U.N. nuclear inspections in Iran said Tehran remained a long way from "industrial scale" capacity that would signal its emergence as a nuclear power, as North Korea showed on Oct. 9 by detonating an atomic device.

"The second cascade was brought on line earlier this month but they appear to be just running it empty. That is, vacuum-testing to assess durability," said the diplomat, close to the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency.

"What they are not doing is building a stockpile of enriched uranium that would give them a bomb breakout ability, something like 100-200 kg (240-480 pounds). It is just a few grams here, a few grams there," he said.

There was no immediate comment on the centrifuges from Iran, but President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Monday that Western powers were wrong if they thought his country would retreat under political pressure from its nuclear plans.

The Islamic Republic says it wants to enrich uranium only to generate electricity. The West suspects that OPEC's No. 2 oil exporter is trying to build bombs under the guise of a civilian programme to threaten Israel and Western interests.

Diplomats said Iran could have fired up the second cascade months ago but may have decided to do so now only after the recent collapse of talks with the European Union to explore a compromise on enrichment that could avert U.N. sanctions.


"The message of the second cascade seems to be: 'Talks have broken down and we are not going to suspend'" as the precondition for negotiations to implement trade incentives offered by six world powers, said the first diplomat.

"IAEA inspectors have not seen Iran enriching (recently), but they had been on the verge of starting the second cascade for quite some time," said a second senior diplomat.

While Iran had processed enough uranium ore to inject large amounts into centrifuges, and proven it could enrich to the benchmark 5 percent level for power-plant fuel, it seemed to be holding back to avoid alienating Russia and China.

Iran counts on Moscow and Beijing, both major trade partners and Security Council veto holders, to prevent the United States from pushing through anything more than largely symbolic sanctions.

France, Britain, and Germany are drafting an initial Security Council sanctions resolution likely to target only imports that could be used for nuclear work. Iran's progam has been largely based on smuggled technology for years.

Diplomats in the EU, which Iranian officials have threatened with unspecified penalties if sanctions are enacted, fear a tough resolution now could boost Ahmadinejad domestically.

Western intelligence experts estimate Iran remains 3-10 years away from an industrial-scale operation of thousands of centrifuges that could yield enough fuel for nuclear bombs.

IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei has suggested the West has time to do more to find a face-saving compromise with Iran.

This could entail giving Iran incentives, such as security guarantees, to rely only on imported enriched uranium for atomic energy, thereby not mastering the critical technology at home.

ElBaradei fears Iran could make good on veiled threats to cripple IAEA inspections if slapped with sanctions.

"The IAEA fully expects the Iranians to limit the scope and access of inspector visits, for example by withholding visas, if this (pending) resolution passes," one senior diplomat said.


Middle East

By David E. Sanger

New York Times
October 23, 2006

WASHINGTON -- The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency said Monday that Iran had begun testing new uranium enrichment equipment that could double the capacity of its small research-and-development facilities.

The action appears to be a signal to the United Nations Security Council that Iran would respond to sanctions by speeding ahead with its nuclear program.

Since February, when Iran publicly celebrated its first production of enriched uranium, progress at its main nuclear complex at Natanz has reportedly been slow. Iran has sporadically operated a single “cascade” of 164 centrifuges, the devices that spin at high speed and turn ordinary uranium into a fuel usable for nuclear power plants -- or, at higher enrichment levels, nuclear weapons.

Those reports had prompted speculation that Iranian engineers had run into considerable technical difficulties.

But in an interview on Monday, Mohamed ElBaradei, the director general of the I.A.E.A., said that “based on our most recent inspections, the second centrifuge cascade is in place and ready to go.” He said that no uranium had yet been entered into the new system, but could be as early as next week.

Even with two cascades running, it would take Iran years to enrich enough uranium to produce a single nuclear weapon.

The United States director of national intelligence, John D. Negroponte, has said repeatedly that he believes Tehran is 4 to 10 years away from developing a weapon, even though its technology base is far more advanced than that of North Korea, which conducted a nuclear test 15 days ago.

Unlike North Korea, Iran has insisted that it does not intend to build a weapon. Nonetheless, Iran ignored an Aug. 31 deadline, set by the Security Council, to stop enriching uranium.

Since then, European nations, China, Russia, and the United States have been debating what sanctions, if any, should be imposed. China and Russia have resisted, and in a speech on Monday at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, Dr. ElBaradei made clear that he believes sanctions are unlikely to work.

“Penalizing them is not a solution,” he said. “At the end of the day, we have to bite the bullet and talk to North Korea and Iran.”

Unlike American officials, he says that he remains unpersuaded that Iran’s ultimate goal is to build a weapon, though I.A.E.A. officials say they believe that Iran wants to have all of the major components of a weapon in hand so that it is clear that it could build one in weeks or months.

“The jury is still out on whether they are developing a nuclear weapon,” Dr. ElBaradei said at Georgetown, after meeting earlier in the day with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

After the meeting, Sean McCormack, the State Department spokesman, said there was now “widespread agreement, although not total agreement,” on elements of an initial sanctions package. He did not speculate about when the sanctions might come to a vote; at the end of the summer, administration officials insisted that the Security Council would act in September.

Mr. McCormack said the Iranians seemed to be moving ahead “inexorably at this point,” so that at some point “you will have industrial-scale production.”

“You don’t want that,” he said.

Some European diplomats have expressed concern that, should the Security Council act, the moderates in the Iranian government who have been involved in negotiations over the nuclear program could be shoved aside, and that some combination of military leaders and hard-line mullahs would push the country to speed its nuclear production.


By George Jahn

Associated Press
October 23, 2006

Iran is expanding its uranium enrichment program even as the U.N. Security Council focuses on possible sanctions for its defiance of a demand to give up the activity and ease fears it seeks nuclear weapons, diplomats said Monday.

The diplomats, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to divulge the information to media, told the Associated Press that within the past few weeks Iranian nuclear experts had started up a second pilot enrichment facility.

While the 164 centrifuges were not producing enriched uranium, even the decision to "dry test" them showed Iran's defiance of the Security Council. The council had set an Aug. 31 deadline for Tehran to cease all experiments linked to enrichment. It may start full deliberations on sanctions as early as later this week.

Iran produced a small batch of low-enriched uranium -- suitable as nuclear fuel but not weapons grade -- in February, using its initial cascade of 164 centrifuges at its pilot plant at Natanz. The process of uranium enrichment can be used to generate electricity or to create an atomic weapon, depending on the level of enrichment.

Iran said it plans to install 3,000 centrifuges at its enrichment plant in Natanz, central Iran, by the end of this year. Industrial production of enriched uranium in Natanz would require 54,000 centrifuges.

Although it is nowhere near that goal, successful testing of other "cascades" would indicate that Tehran is slowly mastering the complexities of producing enriched uranium.

A U.N. official said that even a "dry-run" allows Tehran "to develop the technology, to make sure that things work."

The International Atomic Energy Agency, which has taken the lead in probing Tehran's nuclear program since the existence of a clandestine enrichment program was revealed more than three years ago, could not be reached for comment and issued no official confirmation.

Ali Ashgar Soltanieh, the chief Iranian envoy to the IAEA, said he had no knowledge of "new developments" at Natanz. But he told the AP that all nuclear activities "are going on as planned."

In Tehran, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said his country's nuclear capability has increased tenfold despite Western pressure to roll back its atomic program, which Iran insists is peaceful.

"The enemies, resorting to propaganda, want to block us from achieving (nuclear technology)," Ahmadinejad told a crowd on the southern outskirts of Tehran. "But they should know that today, the capability of our nation has multiplied tenfold over the same period last year."

Ahmadinejad boasted that "the power of our enemies is less than one-tenth of their power in last year."

He did not elaborate, and the remarks appeared aimed primarily at rallying public support as the U.N. Security Council prepares to consider limited sanctions.

Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes. The United States and dozens of other countries fear, however, that it is secretly trying to make nuclear arms.

Ahmadinejad repeated that Iran was ready to negotiate about its nuclear ambitions. But the six nations that have spearheaded the most recent attempts to bring Iran to the negotiating table continue to call on Iran to first suspend enrichment.

The Islamic republic has turned down a package of incentives offered by those six world powers -- the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France, and Germany -- on condition that all enrichment activities cease.

The United States and its Western Security Council allies, Britain, and France, have drafted a text that would impose limited sanctions on Iran for its defiance. But a U.N. diplomat told the AP that the text might have to be softened to enlist the support of Russia and China, which have veto power on the Security Council.

Both Moscow and Beijing are reluctant to impose harsh punishments on Tehran, an economic and strategic partner. They also fear that any sanctions -- which for now rule out military action -- could still start the process toward consideration of force.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Monday he was hopeful talks with the Iranians would resume and that there was a "real chance" for a negotiated settlement without sanctions.

However, the European Union's external relations commissioner, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, said that Tehran had not responded positively to the incentives package and that the Security Council may need to explore "another alternative."

--Associated Press writer Nasser Karimi contributed to this report from Tehran.