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Babylon & Beyond

Observations from Iraq, Iran,
Israel, the Arab world and beyond

Category: Nuclear Technology

EGYPT: Mubarak, on tour of Persian Gulf, may be carrying a secret message from Iran

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Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's sudden visit to the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait saw the Arab-Iranian relations issue top the list of discussions with his fellow Arab heads of state.

The previously unannounced tour came one day after Mubarak met with Iranian parliament speaker Ali Larijani during the latter's visit to Cairo on Sunday.

During Larijani's visit, the first talks between top Egyptian and Iranian officials in over a year, Larijani handed Mubarak a message from the Iranian leadership. Egyptian sources said that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was seeking to end tensions between his country and Egypt.

"The message is offering a new Iranian approach to resolve outstanding issues," said an anonymous source, following Larijani's talks with Mubarak.

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IRAN: Ahmadinejad dismisses latest nuclear bomb allegations; U.S. keeps war option on table

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Iran’s controversial nuclear program continues to be a hot topic among the world's political players as new developments have emerged on the Iranian nuclear issue over the last few days.

Most recently, a confidential document obtained by the British press that allegedly details Iran's plans to test a nuclear bomb trigger has stirred the pot.

On Dec. 14, The Times of London published what it claims is a memo in Farsi showing a four-year plan by Iran to test a nuclear trigger using the neutron source uranium deuteride.

Secret_659483aThe product can subsequently be used as a neutron initiator, a component of a nuclear bomb that triggers an explosion.

The document, titled "Outlook for Special Neutron-Related Activities Over the Next Four Years," allegedly provides detailed insight into the work process around the trigger test.

While it stipulates that some of the work can be undertaken at universities, other tasks are too secret and must be performed by special "trustworthy personnel."

The allegations have irked Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who in a rare interview with an American media outlet lashed out at the trigger report, dismissing it as a "U.S. forgery."

"They are all [a] fabricated bunch of papers continuously being forged and disseminated by the American government," he told ABC News in an interview aired Monday.

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IRAN: World powers ponder draft nuclear resolution as ElBaradei pleads with Tehran [Corrected]

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Late-breaking developments today in the international standoff over Iran's nuclear program:

The Times has obtained a draft United Nations nuclear watchdog agency resolution scolding Iran for its nuclear research program.

[Corrected, Nov. 28: An earlier version described the draft as a United Nations Security Council proposal.]

Also, at a press appearance, International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei, who ends a 12-year tenure next week, practically with pleaded Iran to accept an international proposal to trade in its potentially dual-use enriched uranium for fuel rods for a Tehran medical reactor.

"There is a golden opportunity for Iran right now ...  to shift gears from confrontation to cooperation," he told reporters in Vienna, headquarters of the atomic energy watchdog.

"That agreement is fair, is balanced; has a lot of built-in guarantees and I continue to call on Iran to seize that opportunity, which is, as I mentioned before, a unique opportunity," he said. "But also ... it is not going to last forever."

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IRAN, ISRAEL: Flexing muscles, turning up rhetoric in preparation for possible war

Israel-Iran war?

Things are not looking good for the possibility of a peaceful resolution between Israel and Iran over the latter's nuclear ambitions. Oil prices rose and hearts sank across the region this week as Iran began its biggest air defense drill ever and Israel readied a new missile defense system in preparation for a possible three-front war.

Since President Obama was swept into office promising a change toward strong diplomacy to resolve Middle East problems, his policies have faltered and his options narrowed.

The Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington-based think tank that favors a hard line on Iran, issued a report last week recommending that the Obama administration begin preparing for possible military strikes on Iran next year. If the U.S. does not strike Iranian nuclear and military facilities, the report said, Israel may decide to take riskier unilateral action.

The year is almost over, and so far Iran is unmoved. Neither the threat of stricter sanctions nor a U.S.-backed fuel-swap proposal has persuaded Iran to abandon its nuclear program, and the war of words with Israel is escalating.

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IRAN: Nuclear past, present and future under a microscope

Jordan-zweiri-courtesyIranian officials have curtly dismissed a recent quarterly report  about Iran's nuclear program as much ado about nothing.

Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, called on the U.N. body to put an end to its "boring and perpetual" approach to Iran's nuclear program.

But others see in the report significant changes in tone and content that could spell more sanctions for Iran.

Mahjoob Zweiri (right) is a specialist on Iran and the Middle East at the Center for Strategic Studies at the University of Jordan, in Amman.

Though he says he couldn't find anything of substance in the report itself, its language and tone come at a critical time when talk of upping pressure on Iran is increasing.

"The report has a great link to the proposal for the uranium swap," he said, referring to the atomic energy agency's proposal for Iran to trade in its potentially dual-use enriched uranium for fuel rods fitted for a Tehran medical research facility.

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IRAN: Prayer leader condemns protesters, shuns 'satanic' nuclear negotiations

Iran's Ahmad Khatami Friday prayer leader Ahmad Khatami, a hard-line acolyte of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, condemned the protesters who took part in Wednesday's anti-government march, and attempted to create divisions within the ranks of the protest movement.

Khatami, not to be confused with the reformist former president of the same last name, simultaneously and contradictorily downplayed the protest, admonished opposition supporters and besought them to come back into the fold.

"Out of the hundreds and thousands of people who take to the streets, only one or two thousand shouted" opposition slogans, he said. "Americans must not be happy, as there is no red carpet waiting for them."

Then he shifted gears. 

"My brothers and sisters who have  fallen in the wrong and incorrect track, look who is supporting you," he said. 

"Those who were named by the late imam [Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini] as 'blasphemous' and their Islam was called 'Americanized Islam.' The miserable monarchists are supporting you. What is wrong if you follow the mainstream of the nation? Come back to the embrace of the nation and the nation will accept your repenting and remorse."

But, he added, "Of course the criminals’ cases are different and they should be punished." 

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IRAN: Ahmadinejad, Turkish premier find common ground on nuclear issue

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After months of diplomatic isolation following Iran's disputed presidential election and the subsequent violent government crackdown, President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad appears to have found a friend in Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Erdogan, who recently described Ahmedinejad as a "friend," arrived in Tehran on Tuesday with a delegation of more than 100 Turkish lawmakers and business leaders intent on strengthening trade relations between Turkey and Iran, which already amount to $11 billion annually. 

Iranian news agencies reported today that the two countries would sign a $4-billion deal giving Turkey access to Iran's rich natural gas fields.

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IRAN, ISRAEL: Avowed enemies allegedly held secret nuclear talks

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Reports are surfacing about a meeting that allegedly took place between an Israeli atomic expert and a senior Iranian official in Cairo in September to discuss the possibility of making the Middle East a nuclear-free zone. 

The talks, vehemently denied by Iranians but confirmed by Israelis, were reportedly held behind closed doors at the Four Seasons Hotel in Cairo under Australian auspices and would be the first direct negotiations between the two archenemies since the ousting of the shah in Iran in 1979.

Although participants in the meeting had “committed to complete secrecy,” as the Israeli daily Haaretz reported, the talks ended up being leaked by Australian sources to the Australian daily the Age, which broke the story on the purported Cairo meetings in a little-noticed Oct. 16 report.

Israel said today that the meeting had in fact taken place. The spokeswoman for Israel's Atomic Energy Commission, Yael Doron, told AFP news service that the agency’s representative conducted several meetings with an Iranian official "in a regional context" under Australia's tutelage.

Tehran, on the other hand, has denied that it held nuclear talks with the Jewish state. "This lie is a kind of psychological operation designed to affect the constant success of Iran's dynamic diplomacy in the Geneva and Vienna meetings," AFP quoted atomic organization spokesman Ali Shirzadian as saying.

Shirzadian was referring to the talks held in the Swiss and Austrian capitals over the last few weeks between Iran and six world powers on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear enrichment program. 

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IRAN: A question of uranium enrichment

Ahmadinejad nuclear Is Iran threatening, playing nice or bargaining? The upcoming talks between Tehran and world powers in Vienna will focus on who will provide enriched uranium to Iran’s nuclear program. The option supported by the U.S. and its European allies is for Russia to take Iran’s low-enriched uranium, enrich it to 20% and return it to Iran's research reactor for use in medical treatments.

Such a scenario would be a major shift for Iran, which has refused in the past to allow other nations to enrich its uranium. It also would build confidence in the West that Tehran, after years of defiance, is open to compromise.

But Iran said on Sunday that if a deal is not reached it will enrich its uranium stockpile from 3.5% to 20%. This is a prospect the United Nations and the West, which have pressured Iran in recent weeks following the disclosure of a second uranium-enrichment site, want to avoid. 

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IRAN: U.N. nuclear chief arrives in Iran

IAEA pic The head of the United Nations nuclear enforcement agency arrived in Tehran today to negotiate a timetable for when international inspectors will be allowed to enter an underground uranium enrichment plant Iran had kept secret for years.

In a meeting with world powers this week in Geneva, Iran, which is facing growing Western pressure over its nuclear program, pledged to grant inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency access to the plant within weeks. The facility is expected to house 3,000 centrifuges for enriching uranium and complement the nation’s main nuclear plant at Natanz.

What Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the IAEA, hears from Iranian officials during his two-day visit will indicate how much Tehran is prepared to cooperate with U.N. inspectors. The U.S., along with France and Britain, has threatened new sanctions against Iran if inspectors are not given full access to the unfinished plant, lodged in a mountain near a military base outside the holy city of Qom.

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IRAN: Secret nuclear plant broke transparency law, says IAEA chief

El Baradei

The head of the United Nations nuclear enforcement agency said Wednesday that Iran violated transparency laws when it failed to notify international inspectors it was building a second uranium-enrichment plant.

 "Iran was supposed to inform us on the day it was decided to construct the facility. They have not done that," Mohamed ElBaradei, of the  International Atomic Energy Agency, said in a CNN-India interview during a trip to New Delhi. “They have been on the wrong side of the law, you know, insofar as informing the agency about the construction, and as you have seen it, it has created concern in the international community.”

ElBaradei’s comments came the day before Iran was set to meet in Geneva with the U.S. and other world powers to discuss a range of issues, including Tehran’s nuclear program. Washington and its European allies claim that the recent disclosure of what had been a secret nuclear plant is further indication Tehran is determined to produce atomic weapons. 

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LEBANON: Nuclear material removed

The United Nations' nuclear watchdog days ago removed a stockpile of radioactive material from Lebanon.

According to an announcement today by the International Atomic Energy Agency, a cargo plane carried 36 Cobalt-60 "sources" from Lebanon to Russia for safe storage about 11 days ago. 

Just one of the Cobalt-60 sources, as small as a paintbrush, could kill someone directly exposed within minutes, the announcement said. 
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