Mon, Apr 09, 2012 - Page 7 News List

US to demand Iranian facility closure

BAD COP:The US and Europe hope sanctions and the threat of an Israeli attack will swing the nuclear debate in favor of those in Tehran who would prefer a negotiated settlement

AFP, Washington and TEHRAN

The US and its European allies plan to demand the immediate closure and ultimate dismantling by Iran of a recently completed underground nuclear facility near the city of Qum, the New York Times reported on Saturday.

Citing unnamed US and European diplomats, the newspaper said the allies would also call at upcoming negotiations for a halt in the production of uranium fuel that is considered just a few steps from bomb grade and the shipment of existing stockpiles of that fuel out of the country.

Iran last held talks with the six powers — Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the US — in January last year, with no results.

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had said the new talks would start on Friday in Istanbul, but Iran later said that Turkey was not an acceptable host after the NATO member cut oil imports from Tehran in response to US pressure.

The new demands will be the opening move in what US President Barack Obama has called Iran’s “last chance” to resolve its nuclear confrontation with the UN and the West diplomatically, the report said.

That approach would require the country’s military leadership to give up the Fordo enrichment plant outside Qum, and with it the huge investment in a facility built to withstand air strikes, the paper said.

While it is unclear whether the allies would accept anything less than closing and disassembling Fordo, government and outside experts say the terms could be especially difficult for Iran’s leaders to accept when they need to appear strong in the face of political infighting, the Times said.

However, Obama and his allies believe that crushing sanctions and the threat of Israeli military action will bolster the arguments of those Iranians who say a negotiated -settlement is far preferable to isolation and sanctions, the paper said.

The UN Security Council has imposed four sets of sanctions on Iran because of suspicions over its nuclear program, which the West and Israel believe includes a drive to develop atomic weapons capability.

Other experts fear that the tough conditions could instead swing the debate in favor of Iran’s hardliners, according to the Times.

“We have no idea how the Iranians will react,” the paper quoted one senior administration official as saying. “We probably won’t know after the first meeting.”

Meanwhile, Iran on Saturday told visiting former Japanese premier Yukio Hatoyama that it would pursue its controversial nuclear program despite “restrictions” and hoped upcoming talks with world powers would lead “toward trust building,” media reported.

Iran “is pursuing its right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy and will not ignore this right,” Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi was quoted by official media as telling the Japanese politician, who started his trip on Saturday.

Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful, Salehi said, adding that “for more than three decades with the aim of preserving its political independence Iran has withstood problems and restrictions and ... will continue this path.”

He was quoted as expressing hope that the “upcoming P5+1 talks would be an opportunity for the West to move toward confidence building.”

Iranian media quoted Hatoyama as saying the next round of talks were “important.”

“Japan believes that no nation in the world should possess weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear ones and that the peaceful use of nuclear energy is the right of all countries,” he was quoted as saying.

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