(by Farnaz Fassihi and Jay Solomon, WSJ.com) — Iran rejected any compromise with the West over its nuclear program Wednesday, as blunt comments from the Obama administration over Tehran’s bomb-making capability suggested that the two sides were headed toward a renewed diplomatic crisis.
Iran offered Western officials a long-awaited package of proposals to restart negotiations over its nuclear program. But diplomats who viewed the offer Wednesday said the document of fewer than 10 pages essentially ignored questions over Iran’s production of nuclear fuel and instead focused broadly on other international issues.
It made no mention of Tehran’s willingness to suspend its uranium-enrichment activities or to enter into substantive talks about the future of its nuclear program, they said.
Meanwhile, the U.S. envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency made the Obama administration’s strongest comments yet on Iran’s nuclear threat. Speaking at the board meeting of the IAEA in Vienna, Glyn Davies warned on Wednesday that Iran has enough fissile material to produce a nuclear bomb, if Tehran enriches the uranium to weapons-grade level. “Ongoing enrichment activity…moves Iran closer to a dangerous and destabilizing possible breakout capacity,” he said. Iran denied the U.S. allegations.
U.S. officials have made generally similar warnings before, but Mr. Davies’s remarks were the most public and specific. U.S. officials said the comments were made to stress to the international community the need for a united response to Iran’s growing nuclear capabilities.
President Barack Obama has given Iran a deadline of September to show good faith in negotiations over its nuclear program; otherwise the U.S. hopes to get broad international agreement for new sanctions. Western countries had hoped Iran might agree to freeze its production of nuclear fuel in exchange for the West holding off on new economic sanctions as formal negotiations commenced.
Instead, Tehran’s letter to the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, plus Germany, simply summarized vague Iranian calls for better cooperation with the international community, many of which have been made before.
At the same time, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, publicly ruled out a compromise, saying the nation would never give up its right to its nuclear program or wait around for permission from other countries.
Iran’s moves Wednesday mean the U.S. and its diplomatic partners will focus on intensifying their efforts to prepare new economic sanctions against Tehran, said officials involved in the process. The Iranian proposals didn’t specify any timetable for when Iran might meet the U.S. and other Security Council members in the coming weeks, said a European diplomat who viewed the document.
A senior U.S. official briefed on Iran’s proposals said Wednesday that Washington would still continue trying to engage Tehran, though the official acknowledged its proposals contained nothing new. “At least now we have a response from Tehran, and we can test what Iran is willing to do going forward,” said the official.
Iran claims that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes of gaining nuclear energy, but many Western and Arab countries suspect Iran of pursuing a nuclear bomb.
The Security Council members and Germany held conference calls Wednesday concerning Iran, according to U.S. and European officials, and may convene a formal meeting ahead of the U.N. General Assembly later this month in New York.
“We have no choice now but to go down the path we’ve set and see what the market will bear,” said the European diplomat. He added, though, that there remains deep skepticism over whether Russia or China, either of whom can veto sanctions, will agree to them in the coming weeks.
There remain divisions among the U.S. and its allies on just how quickly Iran could assemble a bomb. Tehran would need to convert its low-enriched uranium into weapons-grade material. This would require Tehran to significantly reconfigure its centrifuges, or conduct clandestine work outside the view of IAEA cameras and monitors. Israeli officials believe Iran could be just months from producing a bomb, while U.S. intelligence agencies believe it could still take years.
Iran’s diplomatic standoff with the West comes as Tehran is roiled by political crisis at home. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is still struggling to recover from a turbulent presidential election in June and allegations that his re-election was secured with fraud. The election has polarized the country between ruling hardliners and a moderate opposition.
In the past week, the government has taken unprecedented measures to stop public gatherings, including religious ones. Waves of university students are being called into interrogation sessions ahead of the fall semester, according to Iranian news Web sites. Education authorities are calling for a revision of the syllabus in humanities and liberal arts because they produce secular graduates.
On Tuesday, Tehran’s new prosecutor general shut down the offices of opposition candidates that had been investigating postelection claims of human-rights violations. Two prominent political figures, Alireza Beheshti and Morteza Alviri, were also arrested in raids at their home, according to Iranian Web sites.
-David Crawford contributed to this article.
Write to Farnaz Fassihi at firstname.lastname@example.org and Jay Solomon at email@example.com.
1. a) What did Glyn Davies, U.S. envoy to the IAEA, say about Iran’s nuclear weapons program?
b) Why are Mr. Davies’ remarks significant?
2. What deadline/warning has President Obama given to Iran?
3. How did Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili respond to calls from the West for a compromise?
4. Which two permanent members of the U.N. Security Council might not agree to imposing economic sanctions against Iran?
5. How do Israel and the U.S. differ in how soon they think Iran could produce a nuclear bomb?
6. Read the background below. Throughout President Bush’s presidency, his administration worked to negotiate with Iran, and voted with the Security Council to impose sanctions on Iran several times. Iran has not made any concessions. What do you think will happen with this round of proposed sanctions, if they are imposed or blocked? If you were Israeli, what would you want your government, the U.S., or the Security Council to do?
ON THE U.N. SECURITY COUNCIL: (read more at the website un.org/Docs/sc/unsc_background.html)
Go to worldatlas.com for a map of Iran and the Middle East.