U.N. Agency Returns to Inspect Iran Nuclear Program (NY) TIMES) By ALAN COWELL LONDON, ENGLAND 02/21/12)
NEW YORK TIMES
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LONDON — A team of United Nations inspectors arrived in Iran on
Monday for its second visit in three weeks, saying its highest
priority remained “the possible military dimensions” of Iran’s
nuclear program, which Tehran insists that the program does not have
and which the inspectors’ previous visit did nothing to resolve.
International tensions, pressures and counterpressures over the
nuclear program have been rising steadily, as Iran claims significant
technological advances in uranium enrichment and threatens
retaliation against countries that pursue sanctions against it,
including a boycott of its oil.
Shortly after the International Atomic Energy Agency team arrived for
talks with Iranian officials, the Iranian government signaled that it
might expand the ban on oil shipments to Britain and France,
announced on Sunday, to cover other European powers that it
deems “hostile” because of broader economic sanctions by the European
Union that are scheduled to come into force on July 1. The ban was
apparently announced to pre-empt those sanctions, which include a
boycott on new purchases.
Iran’s deputy oil minister, Ahmad Qalebani, said that oil exports to
Spain, the Netherlands, Greece, Germany, Italy and Portugal might
also be banned, state media reported.
“Undoubtedly, if the hostile actions of certain European countries
continue, oil exports to these countries will be stopped,” Mr.
Qalebani, who is also the managing director of the National Iranian
Oil Company, was quoted as saying by the Mehr News Agency.
The threat reflected speculation that Iran may be trying to sow
division in the 27-nation European Union between the members that do
not rely heavily on Iranian oil and those that do.
Over all, the European Union buys about 18 percent of the oil that
Iran exports. But those exports are much more important to Italy and
Spain, which each get about one-eighth of their oil supplies from
Iran, or to Greece, which gets one-third, than they are to Britain
and Germany, which get only 1 percent of their oil from Iran, or to
France, which gets only 3 percent.
Despite Mr. Qalebani’s remarks, Iran may hesitate to compound the
economic harm it suffers from existing sanctions by forfeiting
significant revenue from oil sales to Europe now. Even so, the
standoff between Iran and the West sometimes resembles a poker game
with potentially lethal stakes, as both Iran and its adversaries
maneuver for advantage with no way of knowing their opponent’s
British leaders, for instance, are trying to dissuade Israel from
contemplating a military strike at Iran’s nuclear facilities, while
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran boasts of enhanced enrichment
Over the weekend, William Hague, the British foreign secretary, said
that while the West should leave all of its options open, a military
strike would have “enormous downsides,” and that Britain’s main
priority was to “bring Iran back to the table” through diplomacy and
Iran, for its part, announced new military exercises on Monday “in a
bid to prevent such aggressions” by Israel and the West, the
semiofficial Fars News Agency reported. “The grandeur and mightiness
of the country’s armed forces is a deterrent element against enemies’
recent aggressions and threats,” said Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari,
the commander in chief of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.
The leader of the delegation of inspectors, Herman Nackaerts, told
reporters on Sunday as his team left its headquarters in Vienna, “We
hope to have some concrete results after this trip.” Though weapons
development was the most important question, he said, “We want to
tackle all outstanding issues.”
Mr. Nackaerts, the atomic agency’s deputy director general, warned
that “this is of course a complex issue, which may take a while,”
according to a transcript of his remarks made available on Monday by
The latest visit is scheduled to last two days, though it may be
extended, as the last one was. Diplomats who were briefed on the
discussions held on the last visit said that Iranian officials failed
to address the major concerns about Iran’s activities that were
raised in a report issued by the agency in November.
Some of the latest Western worries center on a new uranium enrichment
plant at Fordo, Iran, which is buried deep underground, making it
much harder to monitor or, presumably, to attack.
Iran tried to keep construction of the plant secret, but Western
intelligence agencies confirmed its existence in 2009; Iran then
insisted that it had intended to make the plant publicly known all
Western officials appear to be divided over whether Iran is shifting
toward a more conciliatory posture or is playing for time to pursue
its uranium enrichment program, which it says is for strictly
Last week, in a letter to the European Union, Iran called for new
talks “at the earliest possibility” with the group of six powers that
have negotiated with Iran in the past on the nuclear issue: the
United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany.
In the past, calls for talks from Iran have often been accompanied by
warlike statements that it is honing its military capabilities.
Iran’s defense minister, Brig. Gen. Ahmad Vahidi, said Monday that
the country had begun several projects to build new advanced
warplanes, according to Press TV, a state-financed satellite
On its Web site, the broadcaster showed a photograph of what it said
was a long-range land-to-sea missile called Qader, or Capable, being
fired during war games in southern Iran. (Copyright 2012 The New York
Times Company 02/21/12)
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