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IRAN: Nuclear watchdog still hopeful of a deal between Tehran and the West

June 30, 2010 |  7:08 am

The director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Yukiya Amano, flatly stated in a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times that a once much-touted deal between Iran and the international community on Tehran's nuclear program wasn't going to happen without big changes.

Picture 019a  The dormant deal, dubbed the TRR (short for Tehran research reactor), involved exchanging a chunk of Iran's low-enriched uranium stockpile for fuel to power a medical reactor. 

But that's not to say there's no possibility of some kind of compromise between Iran and the West on the controversial nuclear program, Amano said.

"If you look back at the history of the Iranian nuclear issue, it has not been static," he told the Times. "There were good days and not so good days. We have cloudy days or sunny days."

The United Nations' chief nuclear watchdog said resolving the standoff over Iran's nuclear program was one of his major concerns. 

What about the deal that Brazil tried to broker with Turkey and Iran, on TRR?

It contains some positive elements and I pay high tribute to the political initiatives. We certainly received the declaration of the three prime ministers from Tehran, which was signed on May 17. Then, we received the letter from Iran, officially giving agreement to the Tehran declaration. I received it on May 24. And on June 9, I received a letter from Russia, France and the U.S., putting some questions and I conveyed it to Iran. Now I am waiting for the answer from Iran.

So, the deal is not dead yet?

The IAEA is in the position to facilitate the provision of nuclear fuel to Iran, and not only for Iran but for other countries. In the case of Iran, they requested it from us and we are in a position to facilitate the provision. My predecessor, Dr. Mohammed ElBaradei, made a proposal. The proposal, as was proposed in October, without any change, will not be agreed. Iran made some new proposals. The three countries put questions.

The Iranians complain that the international community, the IAEA, is playing with people’s lives by not simply selling Iran or facilitating the sale of the 20% enriched uranium plates for the TRR. That’s a serious accusation. What do you say to that? 

I cannot talk on behalf of other countries but as far as the IAEA is concerned, it is exactly the opposite. We are not preventing. We are facilitating. We are trying to facilitate the provision of nuclear fuel for Iran. We have never disturbed it, It is exactly the contrary.

I am just creating good conditions and facilitate the dialogue. And, by the way, in February I received a letter from Iran in which Iran expresses its wish to procure fuel on the market. I circulated the letter and I asked my staff to talk to individual countries to find out if it is possible. So, in many ways I am helping Iran and with that – the patients.

It seems that there is a kind of tension between the IAEA under your leadership and the Iranian authorities. Is there a level of personal attacks that is notable and have you sensed it at all?

When I meet, for example, with [Iranian Foreign Minister] Manouchehr Mottaki, I don’t feel anything like that. Certainly, I am aware of the media reports, but my point is that I want to be AN impartial, professional director-general in every field under the competence of the IAEA. 

For the nonproliferation issues or implementation of safeguards in Iran, what I am saying is very simple: All countries, including Iran, need to respect and implement the rules. Unfortunately, the implementation is not sufficient. That’s why I am requesting Iran to take positive steps for the full implementation of the comprehensive safeguards agreement and other obligations. I think this is a very impartial position, factual and consistent.

There is a big disagreement on the Additional Protocol and that’s the key, I think, to many of the tensions between the agency and the Islamic Republic. Do you see a way out? 

We have two issues. One is the amended Code 3.1. In short, this is a part of the Comprehensive Agreement. The amended Code 3.1 is designed to provide information in advance. This is a part of the Comprehensive Agreement. There is a difference of views on this issue. We, the IAEA, believe it is the legal obligation of Iran to implement it. Iran has a different view and Iran believes it is not bound by this. But there is a common element. That is that it is not implemented. They believe it is not their obligation. We believe it is their obligation. But the fact is that it is not implemented. This is the fact. And the fact that it is not implemented reduces the confidence in the non-absence of undeclared activities.

Is there any possible middle ground here? It is not a position that the Iranian government will back off from and it is not a position that the IAEA and the Western powers are going to back off from.

Iran was implementing it in the past. Now, it is not implementing. I believe it is in the interest of Iran to implement it. Iran can enhance the confidence of the international community. Iran states that all activities are for peaceful purposes and in order to have confidence in that nature, the implementation of Code 3.1 is in the advantage of Iran. This is how I see it. This is not something we negotiate and find a middle ground.

In the case of Iran, we have the United Nations Security Council resolution, which is mandatory. It requests Iran to implement the Additional Protocol. So, in general terms the Additional Protocol is not a legal obligation to bring it into force. But in the case of Iran, on which there is a specific UNSC resolution, that is mandatory. Iran says the UNSC resolution is illegal and baseless.

Iran is complaining about leaks to the media. Iran feels that the media has been manipulated to damage its reputation through these leaks. Are there any steps that are being taken?

Yes. On our part, leaks are not good and there were leaks in the past and before my taking the post. There were some leaks and I really don’t like it. We are now finalizing to step up the efforts to prevent leaks. At the same time, we cannot identify from where; who leaked, whether it is from our agency or from elsewhere. That we cannot identify. Leaks in general are not good. We cannot identify if it is the IAEA or other individuals, other organizations. I don’t know. If journalists tell me, we can find it, but they never do, so we can’t find. But whatever the reason, we need to prevent leaks on our part and I hope others will do the same.

Leak is a quite important issue to maintain the credibility of any organization.

As the world’s top nonproliferation chief, do you think your job would be easier if the countries that are not Nonproliferation Treaty signatories and nuclear powers, such as India, or Israel, or Pakistan, would bring their programs in line with international rules on transparency. Would it make your job easier to convince the Irans, the Syrias and the North Koreas to play by the rules?

Personally, I think if every country becomes a member of the NPT that would be very good. But for now, I am working under the statute and under the rules with Israel, with Pakistan, with India. We have different type of Safeguards Agreement and we are implementing it.

On specific facilities in India, or Pakistan, or Israel we have the agreement. But we don’t have the agreement that all the facilities, all the material should be covered. That’s the difference. For example, in case of India, new agreement was reached and more facilities will be put or placed under IAEA Safeguards. Then we need to verify that the facility and the nuclear material in that or in those facilities are uniquely for peaceful purposes.

There has been noise from the Iranian media, from Iranian politicians, saying that they are going to consider reducing the level of cooperation with the IAEA. You haven’t been in that job that long, but in the time that you’ve been, do you get any sense that the level of cooperation is less? Is there any change? Are things getting worse?

First, there are areas [where] Iran’s cooperation has room to be improved. Regarding this recent news report from Tehran, to reduce the level of cooperation with the IAEA, we have not yet received any official communication from Iran to that effect. We don’t know if that will be the case or not, but whatever happens, Iran is under the legal obligation to implement comprehensive safeguards and other obligations and verification is ongoing under Comprehensive Safeguards and I hope that they will continue to do so.

One of the proposals that has been made in the media, by officials even, being quoted in the Western press, is that the West could use small tactical nuclear weapons to damage or degrade Iran’s nuclear program. What would you think of using nuclear weapons to destroy a potential nuclear weapons program? 

Use of nuclear weapons? Out of the question. I am firmly against it. Regarding the use of nuclear weapons, Hiroshima and Nagasaki should be the last one. Whatever the reason, whatever the place, nuclear weapons should not be used.

-- Borzou Daragahi

Photo: Yukiya Amano speaks with the Los Angeles Times in a recent interview. Credit: Julia Damianova / For the The Times

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