January 10, 2012
The EU has decided to move ahead by a week its meeting on an embargo as Iran begins enriching uranium at an underground bunker near the Islamic holy city of Qom. News of the enrichment was announced as Iran decided to execute an American national as a spy.
The embargo – characterized as an act of war by presidential candidate Ron Paul – will likely take several months to start because European countries fear shocks to their fragile economies. Greece, Britain, France, the Netherlands and Germany have proposed “grace periods” on existing contracts of between one month and 12 months to allow them to find alternative suppliers before implementing an embargo, Reuters reports today.
On Monday, the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed Iran has started enriching uranium at an underground plant the media described in 2009 as secret. Iran followed IAEA rules, which state that it must report the existence of any new site 180 days before putting radioactive materials into it.
Iran insists activity at the underground Fordo enrichment plant is under IAEA supervision. Iran’s permanent representative to the IAEA, Ali-Asghar Soltanieh, said “every step we have taken so far has been and every step we will take in the future will be under the IAEA framework and surveillance,” adding that “now with the 24-hour (surveillance by) cameras and inspections, the enrichment activities in Natanz and Fordo are under the control of the IAEA.”
Soltanieh said the media hype about uranium enrichment in Fordo is “politically motivated.” He added that the purpose of enrichment activities in the facility is to provide radioisotopes needed for cancer patients.
France characterized the IAEA monitored enrichment site as a “new provocation.” A statement released by the French Foreign Ministry claims that the move “leaves us with no other choice but to reinforce international sanctions and to adopt, with our European partners and all willing countries, measures of an intensity and severity without precedent.”
British Foreign Secretary William Hague has reportedly described Iran’s new enrichment as a “provocative act which further undermines Iran’s claims that its program is entirely civilian in nature.” Hague insisted Iran “already has sufficient enriched uranium to power the (Tehran research) reactor for more than five years and has not even installed the equipment necessary to manufacture fuel elements.”
Dennis Ross said Obama is prepared to use military force to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon if sanctions and diplomacy fail. Ross served two years on Obama’s National Security Council and a year as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s special adviser on Iran. ”There are consequences if you act militarily, and there’s big consequences if you don’t act,” he said.
Ross has close ties with Israel. He currently resides at the Washington Insititute for Near East Policy, a neocon think-tank that worked with the Project for the New American Century on the invasion of Iraq that has so far claimed over a million Iraqi lives.
Ross made his comments a day after Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the United States would strike Iran if it continued work on a nuclear weapon. ”They need to know that if they take that step, they’re going to get stopped,” Panetta said.
Over the weekend, Panetta said although Iran does not yet have a nuclear weapon and it is not working on one, the United States and its allies should continue diplomatic and economic pressure on Tehran. “We have common cause here with Israel. And the better approach is for us to work together,” he said.
IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz said on Tuesday that “2012 will be a critical year in the connection between Iran gaining nuclear power, changes in leadership, continuing pressure from the international community and events that happen unnaturally.”
Gantz did not clarify what he meant by “unnaturally.”
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