IRAN DASHES HOPES OF NUCLEAR COMPROMISE
By Roula Khalaf
Financial Times (UK)
February 18, 2007
LONDON -- Iran's foreign ministry on Sunday dismissed talk of immediate suspension of uranium enrichment ahead of this week's U.N. Security Council deadline despite a recent flurry of Iranian diplomacy that had raised hopes of a compromise.
Intensifying U.S. pressure on Iran, particularly over Tehran's alleged support for Shia militias in Iraq, has led Tehran's political elite to call on the leadership to exercise caution on the nuclear issue, fearing it would be used by Washington as a justification for military action.
A diplomatic initiative by Tehran, which took senior envoys of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, to Russia, Europe, and Saudi Arabia this month, sent a conciliatory message. This included a willingness to consider some form of suspension of the most sensitive part of the nuclear program. "There is no idea that cannot from the outset be considered," Ali Akbar Velayati, a top adviser to Mr. Khamenei, told France's *Libération* newspaper, last week.
But Mohammad-Ali Hosseini, spokesman for Iran's foreign ministry, on Sunday said that there was "currently . . . no logical and legal justification for suspension."
The International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, will report on Wednesday on Iranian compliance with a December U.N. Security Council resolution. That decision imposed sanctions on Iran's trade in sensitive nuclear technology and material to force it to stop uranium enrichment, a process that can produce fuel for nuclear reactors or atomic weapons.
Analysts in Tehran say that while discussion of "suspension" is no longer taboo, the proposals it is considering fall short of the full, unconditional halt that the U.N. is demanding.
Iran has suggested, for example, that it could temporarily stop nuclear experiments and enter into negotiations with world powers -- but only if it had guarantees that it could resume when the talks ended. The proposal has already been rejected by European governments.
Another idea more recently floated -- Iranians say by Swiss diplomats -- is to suspend the introduction of feedstock into the centrifuges, the rotating device used for enriching uranium, but to continue spinning them. Western diplomats say this option is unacceptable as well, allowing Iran to master nuclear technology.
The nuclear crisis has provoked a heated debate in Tehran, with critics of radical President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad arguing that his influence has turned the world more firmly against Iran's nuclear program.
Reformists, who led the previous government, and so-called "conservative pragmatists" associated with Hashemi Rafsanjani, the powerful former president, share the regime's goal of pursuing a nuclear program (although everyone denies atomic weapons ambitions). But they say there are times when Iran needs to step back and build more confidence with the international community.
The dilemma facing Ayatollah Khamenei, however, is that suspension was tried under the former government -- in 2004 and 2005 -- yet failed to convince the West that Iran should maintain a nuclear program.
Officials in Tehran also argue that they have already compromised, with their demands now limited to maintaining a small-scale enrichment program, rather than the industrial production of fuel.
Nasser Hadian, a professor of politics at Tehran University, said full suspension might well become a serious option for Iran -- but not before enrichment research reaches a more advanced technical level. "Then Iran can announce victory -- and it can suspend," he said.
TOP OFFICIAL: IRAN NEEDS NUCLEAR FUEL
By Ali Akbar Dareinin
February 18, 2007
Iran's top leader said Saturday the country's oil and gas reserves will eventually dry up and defended the drive to produce nuclear fuel, claiming it was the only way to avoid dependence on the West for energy.
"Oil and gas reserves won't last forever. If a nation doesn't think of producing its future energy needs, it will be dependent on domination-seeking powers," state television quoted Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as saying.
Iran produces 4.2 million barrels of oil per day, the second largest exporter of crude among the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, or OPEC. It has the world's second largest natural gas reserves.
The country's recoverable oil reserves are estimated at 137 billion barrels, or 12 percent of the world's overall reserves. Iran's gas reserves are believed to stand at 28 trillion cubic meters.
The United States and its European allies have disputed Iran's nuclear program -- which Tehran says is only for producing fuel and not for making weapons.
Iran's officials have argued they need alternate energy sources for when oil reserves run out and say they see no reason why some of the most advanced technology should be off limits.
Tehran plans to produce 20,000 megawatts of electricity through nuclear power plants in the next two decades.
Khamenei said those who say Iran does not need nuclear technology are "shallow-minded."
A U.S. defense official on Saturday said Washington was not seeking military confrontation or regime change in Iran despite Tehran's defiance of international demands to halt uranium enrichment.
Speaking at a weapons conference in the United Arab Emirates capital Abu Dhabi, Mark Kimmitt, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East, said an "increasingly belligerent Iran" believes it can "control, threaten, and intimidate."
But Kimmitt, a former U.S. Army brigadier general, said he believed "diplomacy is the best solution" to solving the Iran crisis.
"We do not seek a military confrontation. We do not seek regime change," he told an audience at the opening day of the 2007 International Defense Exhibition and Conference.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said last week that Iran has achieved full proficiency in nuclear technology. However, the president said the nuclear advances will only gradually be made public over the next two months.
Last February, Iran announced it had enriched uranium for the first time using two cascades of 164 centrifuges, a sophisticated technology that can be used to produce nuclear fuel or materials for a nuclear bomb.
Iran was last week expected to announce the start of the installation of 3,000 centrifuges at its uranium enrichment plant in Natanz, central Iran. However this did not happen, leading to speculation the hookup was delayed or that Tehran sought to avoid the political ramifications of such an announcement.
In December, the U.N. Security Council imposed limited sanctions on Tehran for its refusal to halt the enrichment program. On Dec. 23, the council demanding Iran stop enrichment within 60 days or face more sanctions.
As supreme leader, Khamenei has final say on all policy. Although he too advocates the pursuit of nuclear technology -- which in Iran is a source of national pride -- he has recently echoed the criticism of other conservatives, and even some moderates, of Ahmadinejad's nuclear diplomacy tactics.
Iran plans to install up to 54,000 centrifuges in all, which would allow for larger-scale enrichment that would produce enough nuclear fuel to run a 1,000-megawatt nuclear power plant for a year.
Iran has said it will never give up its right under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to enrich uranium and produce nuclear fuel even at the risk of sanctions but has offered guarantees that it will not make a bomb.
In the 1970, when Iran was under pro-Western ruler Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the United States and Europe approved the building of 20 nuclear power plants across the country and provided the former ally with nuclear technology.
This course was reversed after the 1979 Islamic revolution which toppled Pahlavi and brought hard-line clerics to power.