The deadlock in talks on Iran’s disputed nuclear program is increasing the risk of a military strike on the Persian Gulf country, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said in an interview.
“The alternative to a diplomatic resolution is growing escalation and rising risks that something irreparable, a military action, will take place,” Ryabkov, Russia’s top negotiator on Iran, said in Moscow today.
Russia opposes Israel’s call to set explicit “red lines” limiting Iran’s enrichment of uranium that would justify military action if crossed, according to Ryabkov. Russia is proposing a new meeting next month between Iran and six world powers seeking to negotiate a deal allaying concerns that Iran is aiming to produce nuclear weapons, the diplomat said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned in a speech at the United Nations General Assembly yesterday that the Islamic Republic had already passed the first stage toward nuclear weaponization and “by next spring, at most next summer” will be weeks or months away from making its first bomb. That was the Israeli leader’s most specific timing for a crisis point. In recent months, Defense Minister Ehud Barak has said that Israel may feel compelled to strike Iran’s enrichment facilities as early as this fall.
“Crossing any red line shouldn’t automatically lead to an attack,” Ryabkov said. “Every situation needs a distinct assessment. Except when responding to an act of aggression, the use of outside force strictly requires the sanction of the Security Council.”
Iran, which says its nuclear facilities are for peaceful civilian purposes, has vowed to retaliate if attacked. Highly-enriched uranium can be used to power electricity or manufacture an atomic bomb.
Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, on Sept. 18 met European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who is leading the negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program. The last round of high-level talks between Iran and the six world powers -- China, France, Germany, Russia, the U.K. and U.S. -- ended without any progress in Moscow in June.
“We are concerned that there’s practically no real movement in the direction of finding a settlement to Iran’s nuclear program,” Ryabkov said. “Lack of movement may prod those looking for a way out of the situation and for options unacceptable for Russia, such as the military one.”
Iran’s uranium enrichment activities are under international monitoring to prevent diversion to weapons use. To produce a bomb, Iran would have to further process its stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium, a level used to fuel its medical reactor, to 90 percent to make a single bomb.
Negotiators for six world powers proposed in June that Iran ship out its stockpiles of 20 percent enriched uranium and stop enrichment at Fordo in exchange for energy and aviation incentives. Israel wants all Iranian uranium enrichment halted and enriched uranium removed.
Iran increased the amount of 20 percent-enriched uranium produced at Fordo to 189.4 kilograms (417.6 pounds) from 145 kilograms in May, the International Atomic Energy Agency said on Aug. 30. Its stockpile of low-enriched uranium at Natanz, purified to less than 5 percent, grew to 6,876 kilograms from 6,232 kilograms.
Russia has no evidence that Iran has enriched uranium above the 20 percent level, Ryabkov said. Production in Natanz and Fordo is used to supply a research reactor in Tehran, not to weaponize the material, he said.