The Caucasian War may have driven the Iranian nuclear crisis from the world’s news headlines this week, but it was still very much alive.
Two key diplomatic ventures came unstuck: the secret United States-Iran dialogue and the formal European initiative offering incentives for Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment and military nuclear programs.
Enter the deputy director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Olli Heinonen.
As the covert and overt tracks petered out, Dr. Heinonen arrived in Tehran for two days of talks the day after the six negotiating powers led by the US decided to broach a fresh round of sanctions against Tehran for its refusal to accept their latest offer of incentives.
The Finnish scientist undertook to sound out the Iranians on their conditions for accepting an international consortium on their soil, with powers to supervise and manage the enrichment installations.
His arrival and departure were accompanied by pretty blunt Iranian messages.
On Aug. 4, president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad welcomed Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika to Tehran with this comment: “In the latest round of negotiations, the Americans clearly understood that Iran’s nuclear program will never be suspended, so they now have no option other than to conduct dialogue and cooperate with Iran.”
Saturday, Aug. 9, as Heinoned ended his mission, Iran’s former ambassador to the nuclear watchdog agency, Sadegh Ayatollahi, said an Iran-IAEA dialogue could lead towards answering questions [about Iran’s nuclear program] and promoting bilateral trust.” He then threw out this aside: The international agency might be allowed to establish an office in Tehran “for safeguards,” like the one in Japan.
Iran’s circuitous locution adds up to its consent to continue talks and also in principle to a permanent IAEA office being established in its capital, provided its powers are extremely limited on the Japan model.
Tehran concocts an enrichment process to bypass a military attack
This was nothing like the international consortium for supervising enrichment which the IAEA official proposed on behalf of the Six Powers.
Therefore, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources in Tehran and Vienna, Heinonen informed his hosts – among them the deputy for international affairs at Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization Mohammad Saeed and its ambassador to the IAEA Ali Asghar Soltaniyeh – that their answer was a good opening for negotiations but not enough.
When he returned to the IAEA’s headquarters in Vienna, the Finnish nuclear expert reported to the American and European delegations that he was not sanguine after his talks in Tehran. He regarded the Iranian government’s consent to a new IAEA office as nothing but a fresh crumb, over which the parties could scrap interminably, while the Islamic Republic forged ahead with its nuclear program.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources reveal how Tehran is using the time afforded by the lame negotiations.
Their Isfahan conversion facility is continuing to process “yellowcake “into a gas (uranium hexafluoride, UF6) for stockpiling and subsequent enrichment, even after the facility is destroyed. The delay gives Iran a chance to increase its inventory of low-grade enriched uranium, ready for the next step of enrichment to weapons-grade levels of 90-plus percent U235 or highly-enriched uranium – HEU.
The destruction of the Isfahan facility in the event of a military attack would then be less damaging to the program, because the main work on the enrichment process by centrifuges to low-grade uranium had been done, and its conversion to weapons grade material could be completed at a new conversion facility elsewhere.
Tehran enlists Ankara for another fake negotiating track
Heinonen’s suspicion that Iran was spinning out fairy-tale negotiations with the West to buy time was borne out, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources when Syrian president Bashar Assad met Turkish prime minister Tayyep Recip Erdogan at Bordum on Aug. 4, just 24 hours after he returned from a two-day trip to Tehran.
Assad surprised his host by delivering a personal request from Ahmadinejad to the Turkish prime minister to launch an indirect negotiating channel between Iran and the US in the indirect format he had brokered for Israel and Syria.
This request was the pretext for the Iranian president to invite himself to visit Turkey Thursday and Friday, August 14-15, for talks with President Abdullah Gul and the prime minister.
Our sources report that after Assad left, Erdogan called Washington to sound the Americans out on Tehran’s proposal. Their response was a cool suggestion for the Turks to talk to the Iranians themselves, and pass on any relevant messages through regular channels.
After considering Tehran’s move, administration officials concluded the Iranians were up to their usual game of opening as many negotiating tracks as possible with the West, which faked diplomatic momentum and ended nowhere.
This conclusion led the Bush administration to a decision to seriously consider pressing ahead with preparations for a partial naval blockade on Iranian ports, a plan previously disclosed by DEBKA-Net-Weekly.