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Entries in International Atomic Energy Agency (9)


Iran: Preventing Tehran from "Going Nuclear" (Ramazani)

R.K. Ramazani, one of the leading scholars on Iranian foreign policy, writes for the Charlottesville Daily Progress:

President Obama’s greetings to Iran on March 20 on the occasion of the Iranian New Year (Nowruz) rekindled the hope that the United States is still interested in settling its nuclear dispute with Iran through negotiations.

The hope for a new chapter in U.S.-Iran relations began on 1 October, when for the first time since the Iranian Revolution in 1979 the two countries engaged in direct negotiations over the nuclear issue at Geneva.

Iran’s Nukes: False Alarm Journalism (Sick)
UPDATED Iran’s Nukes: The Dangerous News of The New York Times

Alas, three major factors subsequently dampened that hope and increased the tensions between the two countries. First, Iran and the United States disagreed on the amount of Iranian enriched uranium to be shipped to Russia and France for further processing in return for 20 percent enriched uranium needed by Iran for medical purposes. Second, Iran proceeded to enrich uranium to that level on its own.

Third, as seen from Washington, the crisis that followed Iran’s presidential election of 12 June caused Tehran to send mixed messages to Washington because of the rift in the ranks of the Iranian religious and political elites.

Obama’s New Year message, however, is more than a restatement of his commitment to engaging Iran. It posed a serious question to Iran for the first time. He asked Iranian leaders: “We know what you are against, now tell us what you’re for."

The President claimed that Iranian leaders were “unable to answer that question” because Iran had refused to accept fully the International Atomic Energy Agency-brokered proposal of October 2009 on the nuclear issue. Despite media misrepresentation, Iran had not rejected the proposal. It had made a counterproposal, which the United States refused to accept.

To address the President’s question, Iran’s nuclear program must be placed in the context of Iran’s principle foreign policy goals because Iran’s nuclear program is meant to serve these goals.

The first goal is to protect Iran’s political independence and to defend its national security against any foreign attack. The second goal is to project Iran’s influence in the Middle East. Global powers such as the United States seek to create an international environment favorable to their national interest, while medium powers like Iran try to make their regional environment safe.

The Iranian people, as well as their government, claim that they do not seek to achieve these goals by means of nuclear weapons. According to the American World Public Opinion Organization’s report of 7 April 2008, 58 percent of Iranians believe nuclear weapons violate the tenets of Islam and at the same time 81 percent consider “it is very important to have full fuel-cycle program” for peaceful purposes. That organization’s survey of 3 February showed that even the opponents of the government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are “strongly committed to Iran’s nuclear program“.

A majority of the Iranian people and their government also claim that they seek to project influence, not hegemonic power, in the Middle East. According to the AWPOO’s report of 7 April 2007, Iranian people want their government to cooperate with, not to dominate, other countries of the Middle East.

If neither the Iranian government nor the Iranian people want nuclear weapons at the present time, does that necessarily mean they will not go nuclear in the future? According to the U.S. National Intelligence Estimate of 2007, Iran is keeping its options open.

The key question therefore is under what circumstances Iran would likely opt to weaponize nuclear energy? If Iran feels its national security is under present and imminent threat of military attack, it is reasonable to assume it would seek to acquire the level of nuclear capability that is necessary for quick diversion to nuclear weapons.

Such an attack could presumably be launched by the United States so long as it insists that all options are on the table. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, however, is skeptical about the effectiveness of striking Iran’s nuclear facilities. He thinks a military attack might only delay its nuclear progress for a couple of years.

Moreover, at the moment the United States is seeking to impose new sanctions on Iran that are tougher than the previous ones. Sanctions by the United Nations Security Council, however, would require the consent of Russia and China. They, especially China, would prefer to continue negotiating with Iran, and the effectiveness of even more biting sanctions is highly debated.

The time is now for Washington to reopen negotiations with Iran. The current U.S. dual-track approach --- tougher sanctions and threats of military attack combined with negotiations --- is apt to degenerate into a one-track strategy of confrontation with Iran if the present tensions escalate even further. That would likely end the prospects of negotiating with Iran in the future. That would be the surest way to a self-fulfilling prophecy - driving Iran to seek national security in nuclear weapons.

Such a development would damage the United States’ interest in non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and prevention of a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, and it would scuttle the United States’ efforts to stabilize Iraq and Afghanistan toward the goal of withdrawing the bulk of the U.S. forces from these countries.

Confrontation with Iran could also lead to a third war front in the volatile Middle East with catastrophic consequences, including the disruption of the flow of Persian Gulf oil supplies to world markets resulting in an unprecedented rise in oil prices worldwide.

Most tragically, it would destroy the prospects of the pro-democracy movement of the Iranian people. If the Iranians feel their country is facing military attack they will rally around the flag, however much they may oppose their government.

The Latest from Iran (28 March): Dealing with Exaggerations

2150 GMT: The website of the late Grand Ayatollah Montazeri claims that 30 people were arrested at the funeral of his wife, MahSoltan Rabani (see 1730 GMT).

1815 GMT: Sanctions Division. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has again rejected new sanctions on Iran. In an interview with Spiegel, ahead of a visit to Turkey by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Erdogan maintained, "We must first try to find a diplomatic solution. "What we need here is diplomacy, and then more diplomacy....Everything else threatens world peace."

NEW Iran’s Nukes: The Dangerous News of The New York Times
The Latest from Iran (27 March): Rumours

1745 GMT: Denial of a Rumour. Yesterday we reported the story racing around the Internet that the Revolutionary Guard was laundering money through Dubai and Bahrain, using Ali Jannati, the son of Guardian Council leader Ahmad Jannati, and putting the funds in a Swiss bank.

We would have left it at that, but Press TV now reports:

Iran has denied reports that the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) was involved in the money-laundering operation allegedly run by a Bahraini minister.

"We strongly deny all claims about an alleged involvement of the Guards in the operations," said Iranian Ambassador to Doha Hossein Amir Abdollahian....

The allegation came to light after Bahraini State Minister Mansour Bin Rajab was sacked for his supposed involvement in a money-laundering operation.

1730 GMT: A Restricted Funeral for Montazeri's Wife. MahSoltan Rabani, the wife of the late Grand Ayatollah Montazeri, was laid to rest today under strict security measures in Qom. Rabani's son Saeed Montazeri said:
Security forces and forces in plain clothes created such a security atmosphere that we were basically unable to carry out the special prayers and mourning ceremony. Tens of government vehicles brought the body without allowing any access to it even by her family. They made a small stop at the [Masoumeh] shrine and quickly removed her form the premises....

They not only did not allow us to hold the ceremony, they did not even let us bury her in the location that we had in mind.

Saeed Montazeri's conclusion? "They are even scared of a corpse and its burial.”

1530 GMT: We have updated our analysis on Obama Administration policy and this morning's New York Times claim of a search for undisclosed Iranian nuclear sites.

0950 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Green Voice of Freedom claims that Tehran University medical student Shirin Gharachedaghi was abducted by plainclothes forces on Friday; her whereabouts are unknown.

Peyke Iran reports that Reza Khandan, a member of the Iranian Writers Association, remains in prison after more than six weeks, even though bail has been paid.

Parleman News writes that Dr. Ali Akbar Soroush of Mazandaran University, a member of the Islamic Iran Participation Front, has been in prison since 13 March.

Rah-e-Sabz claims 181 human rights violations in Kurdistan over the last three months, leading tothe deaths of at least 25 people.

0945 GMT: We've published an analysis of what I see as poor, even dangerous, journalism from The New York Times on Iran's nuclear programme.

0930 GMT: Rafsanjani Watch. The reformist Parleman News publishes a barbed "historical" analysis on Hashemi Rafsanjani as a mediator between "right" and "left" positions. The analysis contends that the right stopped supporting Rafsanjani when the "left" had been sufficiently weakened, leaving Rafsanjani without a role. It adds that the former Preisdent should have established a party; if so, Iran would not necessarily be in its current predicament.

0720 GMT: An International Nowruz Exaggeration? Khabar Online claims that the First International Nowruz Celebrations (see 0620 GMT), scheduled for two days, only lasted one and never made it to Shiraz, which was supposed to co-host the ceremonies with Tehran.

0710 GMT: Arab Engagement. The Secretary-General of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, has told the League's summit in Libya, "We have to open a dialogue with Iran. I know there is a worry among Arabs regarding Iran but this situation confirms the necessity of a dialogue with Iran."

0655 GMT: President v. Parliament. The Ahmadinejad fightback for his subsidy cuts and spending plans continues, with three members of Parliament --- Hamid Rassai, Hossein Sobhaninia, and Esmail Kowsari --- pressing in Iranian state media for approval of the President's full request for $40 billion from his subsidy reductions. The Majlis has only approved $20 billion, and Speaker Ali Larijani and allies have taken a strong line against any revision of the decision.

Another MP, Mohammad Kousari, has suggested that Parliament approve $30 billion.

0645 GMT: Repent! Mahdi Kalhor, President Ahmadinejad's media advisor, raises both eyebrows and a smile with his forthright declarations in Khabar Online.

Kalhor started with a move for conciliation, saying that if all who made mistakes during the post-election turmoil adopted modesty and accepted their faults, people would forgive them.

But the advisor then complained that Iran's state media do not suppport Ahmadinejad, claiming this was in contrast to the period of Mohammad Khatami, "Everything was represented as fair enough and it caused damage to Mr. Khatami more than the others."

According to Kalhor, there have been no Ahmadinejad mistakes and "when the rivals constantly accuse you of lying, you may not tolerate or control such a climate."

0620 GMT: We begin Sunday dealing with inflated "news" inside and outside Iran. Iranian state media is hammering away at the two days of the First International Nowruz Celebrations to show the regional legitimacy of the regime. First, there was President Ahmadinejad's declaration alongside compatriots from compatriots from Tajikistan , Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Then there was the Supreme Leader's statement: "This event and its continuity can serve as an appropriate ground for bringing governments and nations in the region closer together....[This can be a] cultural gift and conveyance from nations that mark Nowruz to other nations, particularly the West."

(I leave it to readers to decode the photograph of the Supreme Leader and the regional Presidents, with Ahmadinejad relegated to the back of the group. Surely just an error of positioning?)

Meanwhile in the US, another type of distracting exaggeration. After weeks of silence, the Iran Nuclear Beat of The New York Times (reporters David Sanger and William Broad) are back with two pieces of fear posing as news and analysis. The two, fed by dissenting voices in the International Atomic Energy Agency and by operatives in "Western intelligence agencies", declare, "Agencies Suspect Iran Is Planning New Atomic Sites".

The leap from their sketchy evidence to unsupported conclusion --- Iran is not just pursuing an expansion of uranium enrichment but The Bomb, bringing a climactic showdown --- is propped up by Sanger's "Imagining an Israeli Strike on Iran".

UPDATED Iran's Nukes: The Dangerous News of The New York Times

UPDATE 1500 GMT: More signals that the Sanger-Broad "news" of undeclared Iranian enrichment facilities as an imminent threat, either to security or to political strategy, is not supported by most Obama Administration officials . Senior adviser Valerie Jarrett told ABC News this morning:
Here we go again.
We are going to continue to put pressure on Iran,” she said. “We’re going to have a coalition that will really put pressure on Iran and will stop them from doing what they are trying to do. Over the last year, what we’ve seen when the President came into office, there was a unified Iran. Now we’re seeing a lot of divisions within the country. And we’re seeing steady progress in terms of a world coalition that will put that pressure on Iran.

Iran's Nukes: False Alarm Journalism (Sick)

The declared line by both Jarrett and senior advisor David Axelrod is that the US is on the way to "a strong regime of sanctions" against Iran --- today's spin is that Russia is on board --- the more successful undeclared strategy is getting individual companies, both from pressure from the US Government and from Washington's allies, to leave Iran.

There had been a few weeks of silence from the Iran Nuclear Beat of The New York Times --- reporters David Sanger and William Broad --- since the last meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency at the end of February.

On that occasion, their reporting, fed by a set of IAEA and "Western" officials who want a tougher line on Tehran, had declared that the IAEA would issue a much tougher report over Iran's approach to a militarised nuclear programme. In the end, the statement of the IAEA's Secretary-General, Yukiya Amano, offered little new, even if Amano's rhetoric was a bit more strident than that of his predecessor, Mohammad el-Baradei.

Well, the boys are back this morning with a double-barrelled picture of showdown and possible war: the two declare, "Agencies Suspect Iran is Planning New Nuclear Sites", and Sanger adds the speculative piece, "Imagining an Israeli Strike on Iran".

As usual, the Sanger/Broad article is constructed on a patchwork of "Western officials" using the pair as a channel for their line on Iran, some twisting of words, and a disregard for context. The very first sentence is a guide: "Six months after the revelation of a secret nuclear enrichment site in Iran...." ignores the fact that Tehran declared the "secret" site to the IAEA. (There is a justifiable argument that Iran was forced into the declaration because Western officials, based on intelligence, were about to "out" the Fordoo plant near Qom, but that's a complexity beyond the New York Times piece.)

In this case, Sanger and Broad's entire declaration of drama rests on the standard process of IAEA inspectors looking for any sign of undeclared Iranian uranium enrichment sites. This is not earth-shaking: a series of IAEA reports have declared that, while there is no sign that Iran has diverted uranium to enrichment for military purposes, the Agency is looking for full disclosure from Tehran.

So what's new? Here, beyond the breathless invocation that "this article is based on interviews with officials of several governments and international agencies", is the total of Sanger and Broad's research: 1) the head of Iran's nuclear energy agency, Ali Akhbar Salehi, said that Tehran would build more enrichment plants (which indicates that Iran's intentions are not exactly covert and, despite Sanger and Broad's claim, was noted by news sites like EA); 2) some "recently manufactured uranium enrichment equipment" is not yet in the Natanz or Fordoo plants (which leaves the far from ominous possibility that it might be awaiting shipment to those plants or may be put on a 3rd site if Iran backs up Salehi's claim).

And that's it. There is no evidence here --- none, nothing, nada --- that Iran has or is anywhere close to an undeclared operational enrichment site. There is nothing here which indicates that, even if the site existed, it is being set up for a military programme rather than as a plant for enrichment of uranium to the 20 percent allowed by international regulations.

(In fact, a sharp-eyed reader will note that Sanger and Broad weaken the shaky foundations of their analysis with this paragraph slipped into the middle of the article: "American officials say they share the I.A.E.A.’s suspicions and are examining satellite evidence about a number of suspected sites. But they have found no solid clues yet that Iran intends to use them to produce nuclear fuel, and they are less certain about the number of sites Iran may be planning.")

And there is nothing here which indicates that Sanger and Broad have even glanced at their series of articles over recent months which have breathlessly implied Iran's march to a covert military programme for its uranium, articles which have evaporated without support for their claims , propped up by IAEA officials upset with the Agency's leadership or by US Government officials seeking an outlet for political moves rather than by any substantial investigation.

So what's the big deal? If indeed this is poor journalism, it should dissipate just like its predecessors.

Well, even poor journalism can have consequences, especially when it is buttressed by ominous speculation. On the surface, Sanger's "Imagining an Israeli Strike" is an introduction to a simulation played out at the Saban Center of the Brookings Institution in December, one which considered US and Iranian responses to an Iranian attack.

Nothing more here, in other words, than analysts testing out a scenario. Except that the timing of this article, placing it alongside the Sanger/Broad exaggeration of news, is far from subtle: if Iran is hiding uranium enrichment plants, couldn't that bring the bombers in from Tel Aviv?

All too predictably, Sanger and Broad's piece is being splashed across websites who support tougher Israeli and US action, possibly even a military strike, and are looking for "evidence" for their position: Fox News and The Jerusalem Post have circulated the piece. (To be fair, neither has added editorial comment elevating the language of fear and threat; I anticipate, however, that columnists will soon be jumping in.)

It's one thing for a series of commentators to bang the drum for an Israeli or even US strike on Iranian facilities --- almost all of those opinions are marginal in policy discussions in Washington. It's another for two reporters at the leading newspaper in America, under the guise of "news" rather than speculation or editorial comment, to offer support for that action.

That's not just poor journalism. That's dangerous journalism.

The Latest from Iran (18 March): Uranium Distractions

2225 GMT: Rafsanjani Watch. This could be interesting --- Hossein Marashi, cousin of Hashemi Rafsanjani's wife and a Vice Secretary-General of the Kargozaran Party. has been arrested.

2220 GMT: Edward Yeranian of the Voice of America offers an analysis, "Iranian Government Releases Prisoners for Persian New Year", with contributions from EA staff.

NEW Latest Iran Video: Mousavi's and Rahnavard's New Year Messages (18 March)
NEW Iran: Reading Mousavi & Karroubi “The Fight Will Continue” (Shahryar)
NEW Iran & the US: The Missed Nuclear Deal (Slavin)
Iran Labour Front: Minimum Wage, “Unprecedent Poverty and Hunger”, and Strikes
Iran Analysis: What Does the Fire Festival Mean?
Latest Iran Video: Two Views of the Fire Festival (16 March)
UPDATED Iran Document: Mousavi Speech on “Patience and Perseverance” (15 March)
The Latest from Iran (18 March): Uranium Distractions

2215 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Women's rights activist Somaiyeh Farid was arrested on Wednesday. Farid was at Evin Prison enquiring about her husband, Hojat (Siavash) Montazeri, who was arrested on 5 March.

2145 GMT: A Ray of Light. Amidst some poor analyses today of the Iranian political situation and the Green Movement, Melody Moezzi comes to the rescue with this piece in The Huffington Post:
The arrests before Revolution Day last month (11 February) surely dissuaded many opposition protesters not already in jail from pouring into the streets and risking beatings and unlawful detentions. I personally know of several opposition activists who stayed home as a result of the intimidation, and I can't say that I blame them. Still, no matter how few or many pro-democracy demonstrators show up in the streets for Nowruz the Iranian opposition has far from died. Rather, it has merely been pushed underground, but it is germinating like a stubborn hyacinth, taking on a course and a life of its own, teeming with the sweet smell of a freedom to come.

2100 GMT: A slow evening. Only significant news that we've noted is the release of Abolhasan Darolshafaei from detention. He is the last member of the family to be freed, following the releases of daughters Banafsheh and Jamileh and nephew Yashar.

No members of the Darolshafaei family are any longer in custody, just in time for New Year festivities.

1625 GMT: We have posted the New Year's video greetings of Mir Hossein Mousavi and his wife, Zahra Rahnavard, to the Iranian people.

1440 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Journalist Bahman Amoui, who has been detained since 20 June (read the letter to him from his wife, Zhila Baniyaghoub), has reportedly been released.

1415 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch: Journalist Akbar Montajabi has been released on bail. So have journalist Keyvan Samimi and Hojatoleslam Mir Ahmadizadeh.

1410 GMT: The Case for Change. Hassan Rowhani, a member of the Expediency Council and ally of Hashemi Rafsanjani, has used a long interview to discuss nuclear issues and to make the case for electoral reforms.

1355 GMT: Escape. The BBC is now reporting the story, which we carried last week, of student activist Ali Kantouri, who has fled Iran after being given a 15-year prison sentence for abduction and extortion.

1340 GMT: We have posted a special analysis by Mr Verde of the political significance of this week's Chahrshanbeh Suri (Fire Festival).

1220 GMT: On the Economic Front. Following up on our Wednesday special on the minimum wage and "unprecedented poverty and hunger"....

Six independent labor organizations have argued that the poverty line is $900 per month and asked for that to be new minimum wage. (The Government has authorised $303.) Economists at Mehr News Agency” have set the poverty line in the coming year at above $1000.

(Persian readers may also be interested in Faribors Raisdana's detailed analysis of minimum wages and labourer's poverty.)

1000 GMT: We have two specials for you this morning (and there's a third on the way). We've posted an excellent account by Barbara Slavin of the US-Iran deal on uranium enrichment that almost came off but then collapsed last autumn, and we have Josh Shahryar's analysis of the latest moves by Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi.

0855 GMT: We're Taking Our Subsidy Bill and Going Home. The ongoing fight between the President and Parliament for control of the budget and expenditure is highlighted by a bad-tempered interview of Ahmadinejad supporter Ruhollah Hosseinian in Khabar Online.

Hosseinian declares that, since the Majlis only gave the President $20 billion of the $40 billion he wanted from subsidy reductions, Ahmadinejad should withdraw the proposal: "It's not clear which portion of the government's revenue will be channeled to other sectors by the Parliament, so I believe implementing subsidy reform bill is against our interests."

Asked how the Administration could avoid implementing a plan which has been passed by Parliament, Hosseinian replied:
Although the bill has become a law, a way must be explored to halt its execution, since enforcing this law in its current form will simply add to the problems. As the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei coordinates the interactions between state branches of the country, a method must be found to annul implementing subsidy reform bill.

0830 GMT: The Uranium Issue. An EA reader asks for clarification on the claim that Iran may be facing a crisis over uranium stock for its medical research reactor.

I am strongly influenced by the knowledge that Iran's approach to the International Atomic Energy Agency last June, which set off this round of talks over uranium enrichment, was prompted by the specific issue of isotopes for medical treatment. I have my suspicions, though no firm evidence, that the renewal of a Tehran push for a deal may also be prompted by this immediate need for 20 percent enriched uranium.

We will soon be posting an excellent investigative piece by Barbara Slavin highlighting this issue.

0605 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Amnesty International is featuring the case of student activist Milad Asadi, detained without charge since 1 December.

0555 GMT: We might have been concerned with the Fire Festival and the renewed protest through the statements of prominent opposition figures (Mousavi, Karroubi, Khatami), parties (Mojahedin of Islamic Revolution), and activist groups (Committee of Human Rights Reporters).

Looks like the Ahmadinejad Government wants to talk uranium, however. Iran's atomic energy agency chief, Ali Akhbar Salehi, put out the line that it was time to agree a uranium swap inside Iran. First Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi insisted, "During the new year, new nuclear plants will be built and the Islamic Republic of Iran will continue with its path without allowing the arrogant powers to meddle."

But, with the US threatening more sanctions and no sign that the "West" will accept a deal where the swap occurs inside Iran, where is the hope for Tehran? No problem: "Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexei Borodavkin has called for stronger ties...and urged closer cooperation between Iran and Russia to confront existing regional and international threats."

Better hope so. I get the sense that not only is Iran concerned about economic restrictions, primarily through the withdrawal of foreign companies and investment, but also that there may be a crisis looming over uranium for the medical research reactor.

Iran & the US: The Missed Nuclear Deal (Slavin)

For me, Barbara Slavin's article in The Washington Note confirms my view of the uranium enrichment negotiations since June between Tehran, Washington, and other countries: 1) they were genuine, motivated by Iran's crisis of a shortage of 20-percent enriched uranium for its medical research reactor; 2) the primary obstacle to a deal was internal divisions in Washington Tehran.

But now the questions for March 2010: 1) Is there still a crisis in Tehran over uranium stock? (Yes) 2) Does this mean the regime wants to re-open discussions for a deal? (Probably, but  there are still internal manoeuvres to be made) 3) Will the US still be receptive? (Likely) 4) Does this mean "engagement" is back on? (Unknown):

The Latest from Iran (18 March): Uranium Distractions

A senior U.S. official Wednesday confirmed that the United States offered the first civilian nuclear cooperation with Iran in three decades under the terms of a deal that Iran walked away from last fall.

Daniel Poneman, Deputy Secretary of Energy, said that had Iran accepted the deal --- under which it would have shipped out two thirds of its stockpile of low-enriched uranium for further processing abroad --- the U.S. would have inspected a 40-year-old reactor in Tehran to see if it was operating safely.

"We would have been well disposed to be helpful," Poneman said at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "We were willing in support of IAEA efforts ... to help assure that the Tehran research reactor was safe."

Iran's ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Ali Ashgar Soltanieh, told reporters after the meetings with Poneman in October that "one of the aspects in addition to the fuel is the control instrumentation and safety equipment of the reactor" and that "we have been informed about the readiness of the United States in a technical project with the IAEA to cooperate in this respect."

A U.S. official said on background that the United States would examine the reactor, provided to Iran in the late 1960s when Lyndon Johnson was president and the Shah ruled Iran. However, Poneman's remark was the first on the record confirmation of this.

This deal sweetener was well received by those close to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and allowed him to cast the package in a positive light.

Iranians much prefer U.S. technology to Russian nuclear knowhow. Some Iranians suggested that U.S. assistance might extend to the Bushehr reactor if a deal could be struck on the LEU. Bushehr, which was begun by the Germans in the Shah's time, is now a "mess," one official told me, a "hodge-podge of technologies" that Iran is afraid to run because it might "blow up."

Ahmadinejad's numerous opponents within Iran's complex political hierarchy attacked the LEU deal as a sell-out -- in large part because he had undercut their efforts to reach a nuclear understanding with the United States in the past.

Poneman said Wednesday that the offer remained on the table. Beyond the U.S. examination of the reactor, Russia and France would further refine 1200 kilograms of Iran's low-enriched uranium and turn it into fuel rods for use in the research reactor, which produces medical isotopes for treatment of cancer and other ailments and is due to run out of fuel by the end of this year.

"It has not been formally withdrawn," Poneman said of the deal. However, he confided later that the U.S. is "not chasing Iran" and that the Iranians know who to call if they are interested in coming back to the table. Otherwise, the United States will keep moving down "the pressure track" to increase the cost to Iran of its nuclear defiance, he said.