Iranian defiance at IAEA sparks Western ‘pessimism’

Updated 30 November 2012
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Iranian defiance at IAEA sparks Western ‘pessimism’

VIENNA: Iran fiercely denied Friday seeking nuclear weapons and threatened to withdraw from a key treaty aimed at stopping their spread, in another note of defiance just as fresh diplomatic efforts gather pace.
Speaking at a tense UN atomic agency meeting, Iran’s envoy said that no “smoking gun” indicating a covert weapons drive had ever been found and that the West wanted to hijack the agency for their own ends.
Presenting a list of “50 questions and answers,” Ali Asghar Soltanieh said that “no doubt is left that the (International Atomic Energy Agency) file has to be closed immediately.”
He told the closed-door IAEA meeting in Vienna that the six resolutions on Iran passed by the UN Security Council were “illegal” and that Tehran would “never suspend” its programme, according to the text of his remarks.
The meeting followed the release of an IAEA report this month showing that Iran is continuing to defy those UN resolutions by expanding its capacity to enrich uranium, which can be used in peaceful purposes but potentially also in a nuclear bomb.
One Western diplomat called the comments “absolutely ridiculous” and said that it made him “very pessimistic” about renewed diplomatic efforts to resolve the long-running crisis.
Soltanieh “did not address any of the issues that have been expressed in the board. It is very clear that the Iranians are not serious,” the diplomat said.
Soltanieh also repeated long-standing Iranian threats that if Israel bombs it, Tehran “may” withdraw from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which aims to stop the spread of atomic weapons.
Israel, widely believed to have nuclear weapons — it has not signed the NPT, like India and Pakistan, while North Korea withdrew — has refused to rule out military action to prevent its arch-rival from also getting the bomb.
Israel’s envoy to the IAEA, Ehud Azoulay, said he was not surprised by Soltanieh’s comments about the NPT.
“I think they are going to do it anyhow in the near future, so I am not surprised,” Azoulay told reporters. “When they make their first nuclear explosion they will have to withdraw (from the NPT).”
The IAEA is due to hold talks in Tehran on December 13 aimed at addressing what the agency calls “overall, credible” evidence that until 2003, and possibly since, Iran conducted activities “relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device.”
Several rounds of talks this year were fruitless however and Washington’s envoy to the IAEA, Robert Wood, said Thursday that the United States would push for the agency’s board to take the rare step of referring Iran to the UN Security Council if Tehran displays no “substantive cooperation” by its next board meeting in March.
On a parallel diplomatic track, the P5+1 powers — the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany — said after a meeting in Brussels last week that they want talks with Iran “as soon as possible.” This may happen as early as December.
But it is far from clear whether the P5+1 will want to sweeten an offer, made in talks in May and June, which for Tehran stopped short of offering sufficient relief from sanctions that have started to cause major economic problems this year.
Signals coming out of Iran meanwhile indicate that Tehran is not any readier to meet P5+1 and Security Council demands to suspend its most sensitive nuclear activities, most notably uranium enrichment.
Iran’s nuclear chief Fereydoon Abbasi Davani also said Wednesday that Iran would continue “with force” to expand its activities, and that Iran plans to “soon test” its new heavy water reactor at Arak — another worry for the West.
Mark Hibbs from the Carnegie Foundation for International Peace said that Iranian threats to the NPT were not new, and warned against reading too much into either Soltanieh’s or Abbasi Davani’s comments.
“Iran’s supreme leader may decide on January 1st that he wants to do a deal with the P5+1, and then all bets are off,” Hibbs told AFP.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Thursday that she was not a “not a wild-eyed optimist” but that she still saw “a window of opportunity to reach some kind of resolution” over Iran’s nuclear programme.
“We put together this unprecedented coalition to impose these very tough sanctions on Iran. We know they’re having an effect internally. But I think that we’ll see in the next few months whether there’s a chance for any kind of a serious negotiation,” she said. “And right now, I’m not sure that it can happen, but I certainly hope it does.”


Campaign fever turns into clash between Druze parties

Updated 29 min 12 sec ago
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Campaign fever turns into clash between Druze parties

  • Lebanon's independent Sabaa party talks about exploitation of positions and money.
  • Several young men from the Sabaa party demonstrated on Tuesday outside the Ministry of Interior.
BEIRUT: Sectarian and partisan polarization resulting from fierce competition for parliamentary seats in Lebanon has led to the first armed clash between two rival Druze parties.
Machine guns were used in the clash between the Progressive Socialist Party, led by MP Walid Jumblatt, and the Lebanese Democratic Party, led by Talal Arslan, which took place on Sunday evening in the city of Choueifat, about 5 km south of Beirut.
The two parties’ leaders acted quickly to calm their supporters.
“When politicians plant seeds of hatred and grudges among people, they commit a crime against citizens who have been breaking bread together for centuries,” Jumblatt said in a tweet.
In a joint statement, the two parties stressed “the need to avoid any steps that could provoke anger among supporters or disturb citizens who look forward to freely exercising their right to vote in an atmosphere of democratic competition.”
The two parties, alongside other parties with supporters in Choueifat, such as Hezbollah, the Lebanese Forces, the Syrian Social Nationalist Party and the Amal Movement, have agreed on “disowning anyone who breaches security, requesting that the security forces intensify their presence in Choueifat, identifying fixed locations until the elections are over, and restraining from carrying out provocative processions.”
Campaigning lasts 24 hours before polling and has seen various kinds of violations of the electoral law.
Several young men from the Sabaa party — a group of independent activists — demonstrated on Tuesday outside the Ministry of Interior, carrying banners questioning the ministry’s role in election-related issues.
“Serious violations are taking place because the country is out of control; many are exploiting their positions and pouring (in) their money, and conflicts are happening at grassroots level — people are tearing down photos of candidates and individuals are fighting with one another,” said Gilbert Hobeish on behalf of the demonstrators.
He added: “This is unacceptable, and the minister of interior must take responsibility.”
Hobeish criticized the Electoral Supervisory Commission, saying “it only oversees the civil society or change candidates.”
“We reject this in toto,” he said.
Ali Al-Amin, a candidate on the Shbaana Haki electoral list (who was assaulted last Sunday by Hezbollah supporters in the town of Shaqra because he hung his photo outside his house), held a press conference in the town of Nabatiyah Al-Fawqa and renewed his protest against “the tyranny that silences voices, oppresses liberties and acts on its own will and temperaments, making us feel as if we were in the law of the jungle era.”
He said that “resistance isn’t anyone’s property nor is it one party’s ownership.”
He also called on “the free people of the south to decide which life they wanted and to which homeland and identity they belonged.”
Campaign fever is rising in Lebanon 48 hours before the elections are held for the first time for Lebanese communities in several Arab countries. These elections are to be held 11 days before parliamentary elections take place inside Lebanon.