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Uncertainty Shrouds Iran Talks

Prepared by: Michael Moran
February 13, 2006

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After sending conflicting signals about its possible withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Iran has restarted its controversial uranium enrichment program (BBC), further raising the stakes in its diplomatic standoff with UN nuclear energy monitors. Iran also delayed talks with Russia on Moscow’s offer to deliver enriched uranium for civilian reactors to Iran, foregoing the need to develop the proliferation-prone enrichment program inside the Islamic Republic’s borders.

Over the weekend, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Tehran would pull out of the NPT—a drastic step taken only once before, by North Korea—unless international pressure to open Tehran’s facilities to full inspections relented. But Iran’s foreign ministry quickly downplayed the suggestion, and, like many things in Iran, Tehran’s real position remains unclear (al-Jazeera).

A week ago, the UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), referred the Iran issue to the UN Security Council (PDF). The issue will not be taken up until March, and even then, says nonproliferation expert David Albright tells cfr.org's Bernard Gwertzman in an interview, no one appears optimistic right now that Tehran is ready to yield.

The standoff has led to a spate of media stories suggesting the United States or Israel might be planning a military strike to disrupt the Iranian nuclear facilities, including a detailed but loosely sourced piece in Britain’s Sunday Telegraph.

Newsweek reports Israel, too, may feel it necessary to act militarily against Iran if international diplomacy fails to convince Tehran to desist. Several official Israeli warnings, the most recent just last month, have hinted at such an action (BBC). Such an attack wouldn’t be Israel’s first against an enemy’s nuclear program. Israel attacked Iraq’s nascent nuclear program at the Osirak facility in a 1981 surprise air attack. Israel's own potent nuclear arsenal, not subject to international safeguards because Israel never signed the NPT, is explored in this CFR Background Q&A by Lionel Beehner, while MSNBC.com offers an interactive look at Iran’s alleged nuclear facilities. CFR held a detailed briefing for the media last week on the issue.

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