Iran’s ballistic missile programme will not be discussed in nuclear negotiations with world powers, the deputy foreign minister said in statements published on Monday. The remarks by Abbas Araqchi, who is also Iran’s lead negotiator with world powers, came a week before negotiations were to resume on a comprehensive accord over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. “Iran’s defence-related issues are not up for negotiations,” Araqchi said, according to media reports. “We will not discuss any issue other than the nuclear dossier in the negotiations,” he added.
US lead negotiator Wendy Sherman told a Senate hearing last week that Iran’s ballistic missile programme would be addressed in the comprehensive deal. “The defence-related issues are a red line for Iran. We will not allow such issues to be discussed in future talks,” said Araqchi. Western nations and Israel have long suspected Iran of covertly pursuing nuclear weapons alongside its civilian programme, allegations that Tehran denies repeatedly. Tehran insists its programme – boasting long-range missiles with a maximum range of 2,000 kilometres, enough to reach Israel – is an integral part of its defence doctrine.
It also denies ever seeking atomic weapons, saying its nuclear activities are for peaceful medical and energy purposes. Iran struck an interim nuclear deal with world powers in November under which it agreed to roll back parts of its nuclear work in exchange for the release of billions of dollars in frozen assets and limited relief from crippling sanctions. Talks on a comprehensive nuclear agreement are due to resume on February 18 in Vienna.
On Sunday, Iran told the world powers that it would cooperate with them regarding nuclear transparency. But IAEA believes that the deal is only a first step towards complete disarmament. Iran’s promise to clarify its use of detonators marks only an initial step by Tehran to address long-standing allegations of past nuclear weapons research, the UN atomic watchdog said today. “This is the first step that is taking place now,” International Atomic Energy Agency chief inspector Tero Varjoranta told reporters at Vienna airport after returning from Iran.
“There is still a lot of outstanding issues so now we are starting on the PMD,” he said, referring to the alleged “possible military dimensions” of Iran’s nuclear activities, mostly before 2003. On Sunday, Iran and the IAEA agreed a new seven-step plan to increase transparency, including a pledge by Iran to provide “information and explanations for the Agency to assess Iran’s stated need or application for the development of Exploding Bridge Wire detonators”. These detonators, known as EBW’s, can have “non-nuclear applications”, noted IAEA said in a November 2011 report, but mostly they are used in weapons research and therefore Iran’s stated development of them “is a matter of concern”.
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The 2011 report detailed information made available to the IAEA, much of it thought to be provided by Western and Israeli intelligence, about suspected “possible military dimensions” of Iran’s programme. More than two years of talks between the agency and Iran on addressing these claims failed to make progress. Iran denies it ever worked on nuclear weapons technology and says the evidence outlined by the IAEA is fabricated. But following the election of Hassan Rouhani as Iranian president last year, the two sides have been trying a different approach, agreeing last November six steps which have now been completed.
Progress has also been made in parallel talks between Iran and world powers, with Iran agreeing in November in Geneva to freeze parts of its nuclear programme for six months in return for minor sanctions relief. Talks between Iran and the six powers – the US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany – on a long-term, “comprehensive” accord are due to start in Vienna on February 18. (With inputs from AFP)