US leads 'adventurist' naval exercises

November 5, 2006

The US, Britain, Italy, France, Australia and Bahrain began two days of joint naval exercises in the Persian Gulf on October 31, including marine boardings of ships 32 kilometres from the Iranian coastline. Iranian foreign ministry spokesperson Mohammad Ali Hosseini told reporters in Tehran: "We are watching their movements very carefully. We do not consider this exercise appropriate. US moves go in the direction of more adventurism, not of stability and security."

On October 27, almost two months after the UN Security Council deadline of August 31 for Iran to indefinitely suspend its uranium enrichment activities, a semi-official Iranian news agency reported that Iran had doubled its enrichment capacity.

The Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) quoted an anonymous official as saying Iran had successfully begun injecting uranium hexafluoride gas into a second cascade of centrifuges.

In April, Tehran announced that it had used a cascade of 164 centrifuges to produce a small quantity of gas containing a 4.8% level of the fissionable uranium-235 isotope. This is the level of enrichment required for fuel rods for nuclear power plants. Natural uranium ore contains only about 0.7% U-235.

In response to questions about the ISNA report, US President George Bush said that, "whether they double it or not, the idea of Iran having a nuclear weapon is unacceptable. It's unacceptable to the United States, and it's unacceptable to nations we are working with in the United Nations to send a common message."

As part of laying the diplomatic and propaganda groundwork for a planned future Iraq-style "regime change" invasion of oil- and gas-rich Iran, US officials have alleged that its enrichment research activities are aimed at producing weapons-grade uranium. This requires at least a 90% U-235 content.

Commenting the same day on Bush's remarks, Russian defence minister Sergei Ivanov said: "I do not share those fears, because I know the situation. Iran has launched a second cascade of centrifuges, and this process is fully controlled by the IAEA."

Under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), to which Iran is a signatory, non-nuclear-weapons states have an "inalienable right" to research and produce nuclear materials, including enriched uranium, for peaceful purposes subject to supervision of their nuclear facilities by the UN's nuclear watchdog the International Atomic Energy Agency.

On October 29, Mohammad Ghannad, deputy head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation, confirmed the ISNA report, telling the state-run Iran Daily that the second cascade of centrifuges had been set up two weeks earlier. "IAEA inspectors visited the cascades in Natanz last week", he said.

The Security Council's demand that Iran suspend its enrichment research by August 31 resulted from sustained pressure on the IAEA governing board over the last year by Washington and its European Union allies Britain, France and Germany (the "EU-3").

Using the fact that IAEA inspectors have some outstanding questions on minor matters about Iran's past nuclear activities (which the IAEA also has with the nuclear programs of 46 other member-countries), in February Washington pushed the 35-member IAEA board to "require" Iran to resume a suspension of its enrichment research that it had voluntarily undertaken in November 2004.

Iran had done this as a "goodwill" gesture to the EU-3 to facilitate negotiations on a "comprehensive agreement" that would "provide objective guarantees" to the EU-3 of the peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program beyond its compliance with its 1974 IAEA safeguards agreement. The EU-3 held out the promise of Iranian access to EU civilian nuclear technology if such an agreement was reached.

In March 2005, after consulting with international, including US, experts, Iran presented the EU-3 with a package of proposals to provide such "objective guarantees". Six months later, Iran informed the IAEA that, having received no response from the EU-3 to its offer, it was ending its voluntary suspension of enrichment research.

The July 31 Security Council resolution, invoking chapter 7 of the UN charter dealing with "threats to peace and international security", threatened Iran with possible economic sanctions if it did not comply by August 31. Iran described the resolution as illegal, pointing out that no evidence had been presented to the Security Council by the IAEA that Iran's nuclear program posed any "threat to peace".

On October 26, the EU-3 circulated a draft resolution proposing limited sanctions against Iran, including banning visas to all Iranians involved in nuclear activities. Within hours the draft was rejected by Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, who told journalists that it ran counter to the Security Council's goal of "maintaining all possible channels of communication with Iran".

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