Iran hosts UN agency for dialogue tomorrow

Updated 15 January 2013
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Iran hosts UN agency for dialogue tomorrow

VIENNA: Tehran hosts the UN atomic agency for talks tomorrow, marking the start of a new and perhaps last-ditch diplomatic push aimed at resolving the crisis over Iran’s nuclear program peacefully.
The visit comes ahead of the first talks since June between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany, possibly later this month.
Some observers suggested that Iran is waiting until after the International Atomic Energy Agency meeting before responding to the six powers’ proposal to meet in January. Hopes were however not high that the IAEA and Iran would reach a deal, with the UN body’s head Yukiya Amano saying on Friday that he was “not necessarily optimistic.”
“It doesn’t seem likely that an agreement will be reached,” one Western diplomat told AFP. “Despite Iran’s statements to the contrary and the IAEA’s previous cautious optimism, there still remain some pretty big disagreements.”
Even if, against the odds and after a year of trying, the two sides do manage to cut a deal, many IAEA member states fear that the deal may tie the agency’s hands and prevent it from conducting a proper investigation.
The mooted “structured approach” accord might include the IAEA agreeing to “close” an issue for good after it has been addressed or being able to visit a site or interview a scientist only once, diplomats said.
Parallel diplomatic efforts by the “P5+1” powers meanwhile are focused less on the past and more on Iran’s current activities, in particular Tehran’s capacity to enrich uranium to fissile purities of 20 percent.
Such material can be used for peaceful purposes — Iran says it is for producing nuclear medicines — but also when further enriched to 90-percent in a nuclear weapon, a relatively easy step.
Iran rejected in a series of meetings in 2012 P5+1 demands to suspend 20-percent enrichment and take other steps because the six powers stopped short of offering relief from sanctions that last year began to cause it major economic problems.
The six are since reported to have reworked the proposal, albeit not substantially.
Watching both the IAEA and the P5+1 meetings will be Israel, the Middle East’s sole if undeclared nuclear-armed state, which has threatened to bomb Iran unless the expansion of its nuclear activities is halted.
“If Iran continues on its current path ... we could be on a trajectory to military confrontation later in the year, possibly as early as this summer,” former US State Department official Mark Fitzpatrick, now at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, told AFP.
He added though that he expected Iran to try to “forestall” this, either by converting some of its 20-percent uranium stockpile or “starting talks so that there appears to be some diplomatic progress.”


New Palestinian deaths bring toll from Israel clashes to 40

Updated 34 min 7 sec ago
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New Palestinian deaths bring toll from Israel clashes to 40

GAZA CITY: Two Palestinians wounded in clashes with Israel were pronounced dead Monday, a Gaza official said, bringing the toll from Israeli fire since March 30 to 40.
A spokesman for the Hamas-controlled territory’s health ministry named the latest fatalities as Tahrir Wahba, 18, and Abdullah Shamali, 20.
Wahba, who was deaf, was shot in the head in a clash east of Khan Yunis on April 6, and Shamali died of “bullet wounds to his belly” sustained on Friday, said spokesman Ashraf Al-Qudra.
Most of the 40 Palestinians killed by Israel since the start of “March of Return” protests on March 30 were shot by snipers on the border, while a few others were killed by Israeli artillery or air strikes.
Tens of thousands of Palestinians in the coastal enclave, wedged between Israel, Egypt and the Mediterranean, have gathered at the border on consecutive Fridays to call for Palestinian refugees to be allowed to return to their former homes now inside Israel.
Some protesters have launched stones or burning tires at Israeli soldiers.
Israeli forces have responded with live ammunition, wounding hundreds in addition to those killed.
The Israeli army says its troops only opened fire in self-defense or to stop protesters attempting to breach the barrier separating the territory from Israel.
More than 440 demonstrators suffered bullet wounds or gas inhalation on Friday, rescuers said.
Israel has drawn harsh criticism from rights groups along with calls for investigations by the United Nations or the European Union.
Israel has for more than a decade imposed a crippling blockade on Gaza, fighting three wars with Hamas since 2008.
Also on Monday, Hamas’s military wing said one of its men died in an explosion.
It said in a statement that Mohammed Al-Maqadma, 55, was killed by an “explosive projectile” fired by an unnamed group which it described as hostile to Hamas.
It did not elaborate further.
The Gaza health ministry said a child was wounded in the same blast, in the northern part of the strip.