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Friday
Feb222013

Iran Live Coverage: The Latest Report on Tehran's Nuclear Programme

See also Iran Feature: The Week in Civil Society --- Threatened Journalists, Tehran Claims the South Pole, and the End of Olympic Wrestling
EA Video Analysis: Iran --- 7-Point Beginner's Guide to the Nuclear Talks
Thursday's Iran Live Coverage: A New --- and Genuine --- Offer in the Nuclear Talks?


1255 GMT:Nuclear Watch. Mehr News reports that the "largest nuclear medicine center" has opened in southeast Iran, as well as a Center for Digital Radiology in Yazd.

The new Digital Radiology Centre, in the Shahid Sadoughi Hospital, is named for Shahid Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, the nuclear scientist killed in a Tehran bomb blast in January 2012, Mehr said.

The story of progress in technology and health care is a good-news tale amid the difficulties of Iran's health-care system in providing necessary treatment, medicines, and medical supplies.

1242 GMT:Nuclear Watch. Fredrik Dahl of Reuters walks straight into the distortion of the day over the IAEA report on the Iranian nuclear programme:

Iran appears to be advancing in its construction of a research reactor Western experts say could offer the Islamic state a second way of producing material for a nuclear bomb, if it decided to embark on such a course, a U.N. report showed.

Iran has almost completed installation of cooling and moderator circuit piping in the heavy water plant near the town of Arak, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in a confidential report issued to member states late on Thursday.

Nuclear analysts say this type of reactor could yield plutonium for nuclear arms if the spent fuel is reprocessed, something Iran has said it has no intention of doing. Iran has said it "does not have reprocessing activities", the IAEA said.

So what's wrong with Dahl's assertation that Arak, with the yield of plutonium, could be "a second way of producing material for a nuclear bomb", rather than just a research reactor? This...

Plutonium is a natural by-product of the standard operation of a light-water power generating reactor, and its extraction from the reactor's waste product is treated as as a normal step in the fuel cycle. Indeed, countries such as France and Japan use the plutonium in mixed-oxide fuel that is inserted back into a power reactor.

There is no clause in the Non-Proliferation Treaty or blateral agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency that prohibit the extraction of plutonium from nuclear waste vis reprocessing.

Still, why let get this in the way of a more sensational, scarier story? Dahl calls in an analyst:

Iran has repeatedly declared it has no plans to reprocess the spent fuel. But, "similarly sized reactors ostensibly built for research" have been used by India, Israel, North Korea and Pakistan to make plutonium for weapons, Fitzpatrick said.

1218 GMT:Diplomat Watch. The Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet reports that a "high-ranking diplomat" at the Iranian Embassy in Oslo has defected and applied for asylum in Norway.

The unnamed diplomat, who decided to defect in December, had been stationed at the Embassy for several years and is now living with his family at an unknown address.

1142 GMT:Your Friday Prayers Update. Today’s sermon comes from Mohammad Emami Kashani who has declared that loyalty and obedience to the velayat-e faqih – i.e. the Supreme Leader - is both a religious and a political duty.

1120 GMT:Immigration Watch. In a series of features about the problems facing Afghanistan, Al Jazeera reveals that >Iran hosts 1.4 million documented Afghan immigrants, including nearly 830,000 refugees – only Pakistan is home to more Afghan immigrants and refugees.

Many have complained that they continue to face discrimination, are denied refugee status and only receive temporary work visas despite residing in Iran in some cases for years.

Even so, Bernard Doyle of the UN refugee agency has defended Iran’s treatment of Afghan immigrants as better than that seen in other countries.

1055 GMT:Nigeria Spy Cell Update. Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian has denied recent allegations that Iran had been training Nigerian militants as part of a plot to carry out attacks against the US and Israel.

Amir-Abdollahian claimed that the allegations were "made up as the result of the ill will of the enemies of the two countries' [Iran and Nigeria’s] good relations.”

Yesterday EA posted feature questioning the validity of the story and suggesting it was more of a PR exercise for the Nigerian authorities than anything else.

1045 GMT:Economy Watch. In a surprising admission of the hardships faced by ordinary Iranians, Khabar Online has a special video feature revealing how some are forced to sell their kidneys to alleviate their poverty.

1035 GMT:Sedition Watch. Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi, a member of the Assembly of Experts, has said that the “sedition” in 2009 --- the protests following the Presidential election --- “was the enemy's design not an accident."

Mesbah Yazdi continued "Defeat in soft warfare has a different meaning...if we are defeated in hard warfare, the afterlife reward will be awaiting us, but defeat in soft warfare means losing worldly and afterlife salvation."

Yazdi warned that "In this [soft] war the victims are those who perhaps it would have previously been unbelievable that these individuals would join the enemy's front."

1033 GMT: Baha'i Watch. Small World Media posts a report documenting the repression of Iran's Bahai's community, with more than 10,000 expelled from government and university jobs, thousands arrested, and about 200 slain.

The emphasis in the report, however, is on the community's "creative and non-violent resistance to this systematic, targeted, and continued persecution".

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0933 GMT: Nuclear Watch. In keeping with the line put out by other state outlets (see 0820 GMT), PressTV reports that Iran’s envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Ali Asghar Soltanieh, proclaimed that Tehran remained “committed to the continuation of talks with the IAEA to resolve the outstanding issues.”

While the Press TV story makes no mention of the key stumbling block in negotiations – access to the Parchin military facility – it highlights Soltanieh’s assertion “that the main message of the UN agency’s report was that Iran had not deviated from civilian to military purposes in its nuclear energy program.”

0834 GMT: The House Arrests. Kalemeh reports that the three daughters of detained opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Zahra Rahnavard met former President Mohammad Khatami for several hours on Tuesday.

Khatami expressed regret over last week's detention and interrogation of the three women and added, "I hope that [the ruling establishment] will put an immediate end to such behaviour and return to respect for the law and ethical behaviour at all times."

Khatami also expressed regret over the detention of Mousavi and Rahnavard, held under strict house arrest since February 2011: "Though we can overlook the injustices and accusations directed towards us, we cannot turn a blind eye to the concerns regarding our country's future. We are worried about Iran."

0828 GMT: Nuclear Watch. Joanna Paraszczuk reports....

As Iran's security forces continued to crack down this week on the media --- with yet another Iranian journalist, Ehsan Mazandarani arrested on Wednesday --- a group of 46 independent reporters issued a public statement, saying that journalists are "neither advocates of the government nor political activists".

The public statement --- whose opening cry of "We are journalists!" echoes the declaration by 134 Iranian writers in 1994 --- argues that Iranian society, and not just the media, is suffering because of the crackdown: "When journalists are detained on the basis of invalid accusations, are forced to make false confessions, forbidden from working as journalists, forced to stay at home or to leave the country, society suffers a loss of journalists and media that can accurately portray reality."

The journalists also accused the regime of threatening and terrorising reporters and demanded that that authorities release all journalists detained and imprisoned.

According to Reporters Without Borders, 58 journalists and netizens are currently detained in Iran.

Iran's intelligence ministry this week renewed accusations that foreign-based media --- including BBC Persian --- are part of an organised psychological operations and "soft war" campaign, funded by Western intelligence agencies.

0820 GMT: Nuclear Watch. Joanna Paraszczuk offers more from the Iranian press on the IAEA report on Iran's nuclear programme....

State outlet IRNA headlines, "Iran Pledged to Continue Talks with the IAEA to Resolve Remaining Issues", with a brief summary of the report's key findings.

The report refers to the issue of the Parchin military base, which the IAEA wishes to inspect over claims that it has a high-explosives container: "Iran in this context believes that since the issue of the Parchin military facility is beyond the Non-Proliferation Treaty, that until such time as new modalities are completed and signed it is not possible to inspect Parchin."

Significantly, IRNA then links the IAEA process to talks with the 5+1 Powers (US, Britain, Germany, France, China, and Russia). It notes that in the last high-level discussions in June in Moscow, Iran had demanded that the West lift sanctions as a precondition for full acceptance of the IAEA's requests, and it asks what Tehran would achieve "if it cooperated with the IAEA in connection with the most sensitive military issues".

Interpretation? While the IAEA and 5+1 processes are officially separate; IRNA reflects the reality for the regime that they are connected. Iran will not reach an agreement with IAEA --- note last week's failure to get an advance in talks in Tehran --- unless there is some movement in the 5+1 talks.

Meanwhile, ISNA's report echoes Western media with the headline, "For the First Time, Advanced Centrifuges Installed at Natanz".

Tabnak, close to Secretary of the Expediency Council Mohsen Rezaei looks at Western reactions, commenting that "as expected", there was an "anti-Iran media wave".

Hard-line Mashregh News publishes a lengthy report on the IAEA's findings, leading with the issue of Parchin and noting the Agency's concern over a possible explosives containment vessel for nuclear weapons testing.

0720 GMT: Nuclear Watch. In contrast to the public spin in its press release and statements from its head David Albright, the Institute for Science and International Security --- a leading source for US media on the Iranian nuclear issue --- takes a neutral, documentary line in its analysis of the IAEA report.

For example, the analysis notes that the new IR-2 centrifuges, spun publicly by Albright as Iran "strengthening its position by racing ahead with these machines", are not even operational.

0620 GMT: Nuclear Watch. A first glance at Iranian State media shows a brief factual summary from State news agency IRNA, for example, on the issue of access to the Parchin military base.

However, Press TV ignores the report, instead featuring a statement by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov that Moscow is "counting on some progress" in the talks between Iran and the 5+1 Powers (US, Britain, France, Germany, China, and Russia) next Tuesday in Kazakhstan.

Fars English, linked to the Revolutionary Guards, also makes no reference to the report. Its lead story is a statement from Minister of Defense Ahmad Vahidi that Iran will "display several home-made defense achievements in the near future".

Alef, linked to leading MP Ahmad Tavakoli, takes the positive line that IAEA head Yukiya Amano has said the Agency is "committed to negotiations with Iran to find a structured approach" to inspection and supervision of Iranian facilities.

0600 GMT: Nuclear Watch. Today's headlines in the "West" about Iran are likely to be summaries --- some sensational, some exaggerated --- about the latest report (see full text) on Tehran's nuclear programme.

The baseline of the International Atomic Energy Agency's quarterly findings is that the Islamic Republic is only a little closer to a militarised nuclear capability, even if it is pursuing one. The amount of 20% uranium is still far short of the potential of being enriched further, to above 90%, to make even one warhead, and almost half of the 20% stock has been converted to fuel plates, which only have civilian uses.

These basics will likely be ignored, or set far down, in articles which mis-represent Iran's new centrifuges as a vital contribution to an effort for the Bomb --- they are not --- and which talk about Israel's "red line" for a military attack on Tehran's programme.

The IAEA did not criticise Iran's introduction of the new centrifuges, supplanting 40-year-old equipment, and did not find any evidence of a military effort. However, the Agency continued to express its concern that it is not allowed to visit all Iranian facilities, and in particular, it criticised Tehran for not granting access to the Parchin military base, where US and European officials claim a high-explosives container can be used for testing of a militarised nuclear capability.

Beyond a dissection of the report and the summaries of it, there is the bigger question: how will the politics around the IAEA's findings affect next Tuesday's talks in Kazakhstan between Iran and the 5+1 Powers, the first high-level encounter in eight months?

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