The International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) latest nuclear inspection mission to Iran ended on a negative note as Iranians reportedly denied the inspectors access to a military base and with talks over Iran’s nuclear programme stalling. Meanwhile, Russia has warned against attacking Iran and played down the IAEA mission as a failure, while Japan said it was in finalising an agreement with the United States to cut Iranian crude oil imports by as much as 20 per cent.
IAEA says inspectors barred from military facility, talks failed
Officials from the International Atomic Energy Agency IAEA said that the Iranians denied them access to a military base and that talks with the Iranians had faltered.
The IAEA inspectors denied entry to the Parchin military base during two days of meetings that ended yesterday. Iranian ambassador to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, said that officials discussed the possibility of cooperation and that further talks will be held, but he did not give further details.
IAEA’s chief inspector, Herman Nackaerts, said, “We couldn’t get access and we couldn’t finalize a way forward.” Nackaerts did not say if Iran denied the IAEA team immediate access to Parchin or whether the Islamic Republic also ruled out requests for future visits
In the US, The White House expressed its disappointment that the nuclear inspectors were barred from Parchin and called the visit a “failure” for Iran.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said, “It's another demonstration of Iran's refusal to abide by its international obligations.”
Iran’s highest authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said Iran’s nuclear policies would continue unchanged despite increasing international pressure.
The risk of military conflict was highlighted yesterday Mohammad Hejazi, deputy head of the general staff of the Iranian Armed Forces, said Iran should consider pre-emptive action if threatened.
Other Iranian officials had said in recent weeks that they would not attack another country first and their actions would only be for retaliation.
Iran attempted to ease tensions caused by General Hejazi’s remarks. Iranian Ambassador to Russia Mahmoud-Reza Sajjadi said today that pre-emptive strikes were not a part of his country’s policy. He added that China may host a fresh round of negotiations on the Iranian nuclear programme.
Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said his country wanted the “best relations possible” with the EU and urged the group to reconsider its policies.
The IAEA operates cameras and conducts regular, as well as unannounced visits, to declared nuclear sites.
While the IAEA has continued to verify Iran isn’t diverting its existing uranium stockpile, the UN Security Council demanded in a resolution that the country open more facilities such as Parchin to inspection.
The IAEA suspected nuclear activities at Parchin in 2004 when Tehran’s government allowed inspectors access to parts of the facility. The agency reported in September 2004 that they found nothing.
The IAEA reported in November that recent information showed Iran may have been conducting high-explosives tests at Parchin of components needed for a nuclear weapon. Inspectors are not allowed onto the site as it is not a declared nuclear site.
Report: UN Nuclear Regulator Says Iran Denies Request to Visit Key Military Base[Bloomberg, 23 Feb 2012]
Report: White House: IAEA visit a 'failure' for Iran [BBC, 22 Feb 2012]
Report: Iran defiant as UN nuclear talks fail [Reuters, 22 Feb 2012]
Russia warns against attacking Iran, plays down IAEA mission failure
Russia on Wednesday warned that attacking Iran would be a disaster and played down the failure of the IAEA’s mission.
Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov told a news conference, “Of course any possible military scenario against Iran will be catastrophic for the region and for the whole system of international relations.”
This was one of Russia’s bluntest warnings against resorting to force, an option Israel and the US have refused to rule out if they believe that diplomacy and sanctions will fail to halt Iran’s alleged development of a nuclear weapon.
Mr Gatilov called for the West to wait for the IAEA's official report before deciding to denounce Iran for failing to cooperate with the agency. “I would not make any profound conclusions from the IAEA mission that dialogue failed and we reached a dead end,” Mr Gatilov said.
Report: Russia warns Israel not to attack Iran [Reuters, 22 Feb 2012]
Report: Russia warns against 'catastrophic' Iran strike [Telegraph, 22 Feb 2012]
Japan may cut Iranian oil imports by 20 per cent
Japan said it is in final talks with Washington on an agreement on cuts in Iranian crude oil imports that could amount to more than 20 per cent a year, as Tokyo seeks to obtain waivers from US sanctions.
Japan and the US will reach a basic agreement by the end of February, which would spare Japan's three main banks that currently handle transactions to Iran from penalties, according to a Nikkei business daily report.
Circumventing sanctions is crucial to protect the Japanese financial sector's overseas operations, but cutting oil imports could threaten Japan’s economy.
Japan’s trade and foreign ministers said Tuesday that Tokyo was nearing an agreement with Washington but did not elaborate on the size of the cuts in Iranian imports. Another Japanese newspaper had reported earlier that an 11 per cent cut was settled upon.
Cuts of 20 per cent would thus be much larger than expected, with Japan's reliance on imports having grown since the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami caused the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
China, India and Japan altogether purchase around 45 per cent of Iran’s oil exports and all of them are planning cuts of at least 10 per cent.
Report: Japan cuts in Iran crude imports could be over 20 pct-media [Reuters, 22 Feb 2012]