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    Middle East
     Jun 23, 2010
Core concerns spark Iran reaction
By a Special Correspondent

WASHINGTON - Iran has stuck to the core elements of the controversy over its standoff with the West in delivering its riposte to United Nations sanctions, banning two UN inspectors from visiting nuclear installations.

The retaliatory move against the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reflected Tehran's anger over measures designed to tighten the screws on its economy, diplomats and observers said on Monday, just as the US Congress was putting the finishing touches to a draft of what Senate Banking Committee chairman Chris Dodd and Howard Berman, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, termed a ''powerful package'' of new sanctions. These come in the wake of UN Security Council


Resolution 1929, the June 9 vote to extend curbs on Iran over its refusal to suspend the enrichment of uranium.

The US and its allies claim Iran is trying to develop atomic weapons, which were it able to build could be a match for Israel's nuclear strike power in the Middle East and have the range to reach the Jewish state. Tehran - backed by Brazil and Turkey - insists its nuclear program is peaceful. Tehran has called resolution 1929 illegal and has threatened action to protect its interests.

Relations between Iran and the IAEA have become more strained since Japanese diplomat Yukiya Amano took over as head of the agency in December, adopting a tougher approach than his predecessor, Mohamed ElBaradei.

"This action [banning the inspectors from entering Iran] is in reality a regulatory notice to Amano to be careful so that the agency's inspectors do not violate the international entity's charter," Iran's state news agency IRNA quoted Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki as saying on Tuesday. "Amano should manage the agency professionally," he said.

Iran complained to the UN after an IAEA report issued at the end of last month said Tehran was preparing extra equipment to enrich uranium, had stockpiled nuclear material, and was failing to answer questions about possible military dimensions to its nuclear work and to address concerns about undisclosed activities.

Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran's Atomic Energy Agency, alleged on Monday that the two barred inspectors made an ''untruthful'' assessment of the Islamic Republic's nuclear program, according to state media. Stressing Iran's commitment to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which governs nuclear issues, Salehi said the ban on unnamed UN personnel invoked its right under a "safeguards agreement" with the nuclear watchdog.

"The International Atomic Energy Agency can confirm that on 10 June 2010 it received a letter from Iran objecting to the designation of two IAEA safeguards inspectors,'' the agency said in a June 21 press release on its website. "The IAEA has full confidence in the professionalism and impartiality of the inspectors concerned. The Agency confirms that its report on the implementation of safeguards in Iran, issued on 31 May 2010, is fully accurate.''

The UN Security Council, in its fourth such resolution since 2006, voted last month to extend curbs on Iran over its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment. Resolution 1929 called on countries and blocs of nations to expand their sanctions regimes on Iranian organizations and individuals. The European Union (EU) followed with new sanctions, and last week the US Treasury Department said it would restrict economic contacts with three dozen additional individuals and companies alleged to be helping Iran develop nuclear and missile programs and evade international penalties, the Associated Press reported.

The effect of sanctions may be taken up on Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's visit to Washington this week. Medvedev has criticized the US and the EU's decisions by saying unilateral sanctions against Iran may inflame the current situation and damage dialogue with Tehran.

The Russian Foreign Ministry also said it was "disappointed" with the decisions, which "undermine the basis of dialogue and cooperation" on Iran, Kremlin aide Sergei Prikhodko told reporters in Moscow.

A number of laws introduced in Germany to implement the resolution appeared to ban the transportation of Russia's cargo via Germany to Iran, where Russia is building the Bushehr nuclear power plant under IAEA supervision, he said.

"There have been no such cases from the US side so far, but we want to prevent them and have some guarantees concerning the issue," Prikhodko said.

Pakistan said it would abide by any US sanctions on Iran, which US special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke warned at the weekend could hit Pakistani companies involved in a US$7.6 billion Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline deal.

"If the US imposes sanctions, they will have international implications and Pakistan as a member of the international community will follow them," Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani was reported by Reuters as saying at a press conference in southern Sindh province.

Holbrooke warned Islamabad against becoming too committed to the pipeline project because of the expected sanctions' effects.

The US House of Representatives passed its Iran sanctions bill last October, and the senate its bill in January, but Berman and Dodd said in May that congress would wait until after the UN acted to ensure its measures were in line with the Barack Obama administration's policy of complementing unilateral actions against Iran with multilateral cooperation.

With Brazil and Turkey voting against UN sanctions on June 9, multilateral cooperation is distinctly patchy. Those countries' bid to find a diplomatic solution to end the nuclear standoff stumbled after it was shunned by the Obama administration, even as in substance the plan they devised matched a fuel swap proposal the US had backed last year. Their proposal, known as the Tehran Declaration after they secured Iran's cooperation in the Iranian capital in May, called for Iran's atomic agency to send its stockpiles of uranium to Turkey - from where nuclear fuel would be processed and returned as rods for making medical isotopes in the Iranian capital.

The plan has also failed to make headway at the IAEA as the US and its allies push for sanctions.

The latest draft US sanctions on Iran focus on disrupting exports of gasoline and other petroleum products to Iran and banning American banks from doing business with foreign banks providing services to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.

The legislation would add to existing sanctions by excluding from US markets companies and other entities that are involved in selling Iran the refined petroleum products such as gasoline and jet fuel that it relies on, even though it is one of the world's largest exporters of crude oil. The draft US bill would also impose new penalties on foreign companies, including insurance, financing and shipping companies, which assist in developing Iran's energy sector.

"A month ago we announced our intention to develop a powerful package of new sanctions against Iran that would substantially augment ongoing multilateral efforts by the UN Security Council and the European Union," Dodd and Berman said in a statement. "Our agreement does just that."

The US agreement has to be approved by other members of the House-Senate conference, but it claims wide congressional support and is expected to move quickly toward final votes in the two chambers.

In the meantime, observers and diplomats say it is likely Iran will embark on more retaliatory action to the imposition of sanctions. While the ban on the activities of two UN nuclear inspectors poses few problems in practical terms, since the IAEA employs more than 200 inspectors, repeated refusals to assist their inquiries may yet spark a real crisis.

(Copyright 2010 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

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(24 hours to 11:59pm ET, Jun 21, 2010)


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