London, Asharq Al-Awsat- US Ambassador to the IAEA Glyn Davies urged Iran to focus on discussing the fundamental issues placed on the negotiations table between Tehran and the 5+1 countries instead of focusing on “the shape of the table and who is sitting around it.” He explained “how many times do we have to talk about the shape of the table? Let us not talk about the shape of the [negotiations] table and let us talk about the issues on the table.” The US ambassador stressed that the US is seeking to achieve “a long-term solution” with Iran vis-à-vis the international concern over its nuclear program.
Davies confirmed in a telephone interview with Asharq Al-Awsat from his office in Vienna that a decision has yet to be made regarding Turkish and Brazilian participation in the expected negotiations with Iran in September 2010. He explained “regarding the participation of Turkey and Brazil in the upcoming negotiations, then this is up to the concerned capitals to decide, and this is subject to the composition of the negotiations and whether or not it will change.” Davies said that if Iran shows credibility in terms of fulfilling its international commitments, then “an agreement can be reached with Iran.”
Davies described Syria’s cooperation with the IAEA as “insufficient” and explained that Damascus continues to refuse to allow IAEA inspectors into the Dayr al-Zawr reactor despite the fact that the international inspectors had more questions than answers after visiting the site following the raid against it. He said: “America will not let the matter go…Syria must respond to the IAEA questions.” He added that there is a conviction that “Syria is working illegally with North Korea to circumvent the nuclear non-proliferation system.” Davies said that America supports the efforts of countries in the region to build nuclear reactors to generate energy for peaceful purposes and pointed out that if a country wanted to enrich uranium on its soil then America will be keen to talk to that country about its plans. He explained that the reason for this is because “enriching uranium is a very complex and difficult matter and could lead to the danger of nuclear proliferation. Our response to the enrichment issue is that there is a need to create an international nuclear fuel bank.”
Davies also explained “if a country wanted to build enrichment facilities of its own then the important issue is that it takes place in accordance with international commitments. As for America, we will discuss the issue with those countries that want to enrich uranium on their territories and try to understand from them why they want to create enrichment facilities on their territories. However, the United States does not say to those countries: you cannot enrich uranium because this is in the hands of the IAEA and the nuclear non-proliferation system. The United States is not a referee in the World Cup and it does not carry yellow cards.”
Following is the text of the interview:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] US President Barack Obama said last week that America will continue to put pressure on Iran in order for it to fulfill its international commitments. Meanwhile, the US State Department said that Washington is ready to negotiate if Iran is “serious” about dialogue amid speculation that the negotiations could resume between Tehran and the 5+1 countries by September 2010. Are there any American pre-conditions to resume the dialogue?
[Davies] The term conditions is probably too strong. However, let me say that we have a two-track policy: the first is to engage with Iran diplomatically in an effort to find long-term solutions to the international concern over its nuclear program. The second track is to bring Iran to account for its actions regarding its international commitments. We have these two tracks: incentives and pressure. It has been a year now since we have been trying to communicate with Iran at an individual level and as a group. But Iran has continued to show an absence of desire to seize the opportunity.
To go back to your question as to whether or not there are pre-conditions for the dialogue, for us the important matter, which we clearly stated to the Iranians at the Geneva meeting in October 2009 is that Iran must respond to the sources of international concern over its nuclear program. This for us is the starting point. If Iran does this in a clear and honest way and showed credibility in terms of fulfilling its commitments as a member of the IAEA and a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, then an agreement can be reached with Iran.
This was certainly our message at the Geneva meeting in October last year and this continues to be our message. The problem is that it is difficult to focus on this message while Iran continues its provocative activities, including the enrichment of uranium to the 20 percent level; concealing its facility in Qom; and not fulfilling its commitments in accordance with the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. What we want to do is continue our diplomatic engagement with Iran. We are committed to this goal and we want a comprehensive long-term solution to the international concern over Iran’s nuclear program.
This is our number one mission regarding our communication with Iran. I believe that the Iranians know that this is our goal because this is what we told them as a group and bilaterally since President Obama took office. However, we want the Iranians to show that they are serious about dealing with the causes of concern over their nuclear program.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] The nuclear exchange agreement that Iran signed with Turkey and Brazil has many points that are in agreement with the 5+1 proposal that was put forward to Iran in Geneva last year. Why were there reservations by Washington regarding the Tehran declaration? What are the flaws in that agreement from your point of view?
[Davies] First of all, I must say that America very much respects the efforts by Turkey and Brazil and it is aware that their motives are good and we have had contact with them at all levels, including at the level of the leaders in order for them to understand the reasons for the American concern.
Now to return to your question regarding the problems with the Tehran declaration: First, the agreement does not take into account the major changes on the ground related to the Iranian nuclear program because of the Iranian actions in October 2009, at the forefront of which is the fact that Iran enriched uranium to the level of 20 percent. However, this is not the only reason. There is also the fact that Iran is ignoring its commitments to the nuclear non-proliferation agreement; it concealed the Qom facility; in addition to the fact that Iran has not fully responded to questions by the IAEA regarding the possibility of there being a military side to the Iranian nuclear program. These are all difficulties that have faced the IAEA and have not allowed it to confirm the peaceful nature of the Iranian nuclear program. All this took place over the past six months.
However, the essential matter is that Iran has almost doubled the amount of enriched uranium it has from Natanz [nuclear enrichment facility]. When former IAEA chief Muhammad ElBaradei moved diagonally last autumn to lead negotiations in Vienna and came up with an excellent proposal that states that Iran should send uranium abroad in order to transform it into nuclear energy to use in its research facilities in Tehran to produce isotopes for medical uses. This took place and Iran possessed 1,600 kg of low-enriched uranium. However, from that point until now Iran speeded up the level of its nuclear program and produced, although it is hard to accurately determine the amount, around a further 1,000 kg of uranium.
This is a change in circumstances on the ground. With Iran returning to the October 2009 agreement, the question was raised: What is the problem with the agreement now one year after agreeing to it? This does not take into consideration many of the changes on the ground. Also there are a number of points in the Tehran declaration that did not take into account the details that came in the agreement supervised by ElBaradei last October; for example details about protecting the stockpiles of Iranian fuel and the conditions for returning the uranium. Practically, all the details. We have explained to the new IAEA chief Amano the causes of our concern. When I say we, I mean the US, France and Russia. Around a month ago, we went to Amano and explained to him the causes of our concern, which were not addressed by the Tehran declaration. All those concerns were conveyed to Iran and now a month later we are still waiting for a response from Tehran about these concerns that the IAEA had conveyed in the second week of June 2010.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Iran’s enrichment of uranium to the 20 percent level has changed many facts on the ground as you said. If the 5+1 states negotiate with Iran next September about the nuclear swap agreement, then what are the amendments that you would want to include in the agreement so there is agreement over it. In other words, the Tehran declaration stated that Iran send 1,200 kg of the low-enriched uranium it has abroad, but you said this amount will not be enough to satisfy the West about Iran’s nuclear intentions. What is the amount that you may propose for Tehran to send abroad?
[Davies] You are asking the right question. But I cannot answer it because this will complicate our diplomatic efforts by negotiating with Iran through the press by announcing the amount of uranium. The point I want to focus on here is that after Iran resisted ElBaradei’s proposal to send 1,200 kg of uranium abroad for eight months, finally Tehran accepts it. However, the circumstances on the ground have changed. What I want to say is that Iran needs to show that it understands the world and the region’s concern over its nuclear program. This is something that is missing so far. Now Iran comes after all these months have passed to say that it is willing to accept the amount proposed by ElBaradei? There is something tricky here because it does not take into account all that has happened on the ground, including the enrichment of uranium by 20 percent and the discovery of the Qom facility.
Both Turkey and Brazil, despite the differences over the timing and the tactics both announced that they are opposed to Iran becoming a military nuclear power and they have expressed their concern over Iran’s cooperation with the IAEA. We appreciate the good intentions, but we want Iran to address the international concern. This international concern emerged in the recent extended negotiations of the IAEA board of directors. Out of 35 countries of the board of directors, only three voted against the decision. In addition to that, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council voted in favor of the latest sanctions. Sometimes the Iranians prefer to negotiate through the press and announced statements. However, this is not beneficial because what they need to do is respond to the IAEA proposals.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] The nuclear swap agreement reached with Iran in Geneva in October 2009 does not call on Iran to stop uranium enrichment and therefore the Iranians say they are continuing enrichment because it is their right in accordance with the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.
[Davies] You are right. The nuclear swap agreement does not state that Iran must stop nuclear enrichment. The nuclear swap agreement deals with the issue of nuclear fuel that Iran needs for its research facility. Therefore, it does not address all reasons for concern over the Iranian nuclear program. The nuclear swap agreement must address man y of the changes that have taken place on the ground including accelerating the momentum of uranium production in Iran. Therefore, the Tehran declaration, despite the good intentions by Brazil and Turkey, does not address the issue of increasing Iran’s stockpiles of uranium and does not respond to our ceiling of expectations regarding what needs to be achieved from this agreement.
The reason that pushed America, France, Russia and the IAEA to participate in that agreement in the first place is our belief that we can meet the Iranian requirements to supply Tehran’s research facility with nuclear fuel.
We did so because we saw this step as an opportunity to help Iran fulfill humanitarian needs for cancer patients, and an opportunity for Iran to show the peaceful intentions of its nuclear program (by sending two-thirds of its uranium abroad.) This would have created a diplomatic opening that we could have all used to move forward and address the major issues of concern since the nuclear swap deal regarding Tehran’s reactor did not aim to resolve all pending nuclear issues with Iran, but it aimed to first open the way to build confidence in the peaceful intentions of Iran.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] If you hold negotiations in September 2010 will Turkey and Brazil join the negotiations with Iran? Will you allow Turkey to be the station to store Iranian uranium?
[Davies] Regarding Turkey and Brazil joining the 5+1 talks with Iran, the 5+1 group (UN Security Council member-states + Germany) is negotiating a host of issues with Iran, but more specifically the nuclear issue with all its details and issues. However, the nuclear exchange agreement is limited to Tehran’s research nuclear reactor and an effort to build confidence in Iranian intentions. Before Iran can agree to accept Turkey as a final destination to store uranium, we said that the 5+1 group does not oppose this and in fact we worked with the IAEA a few months before the Tehran declaration was reached. We publicly announced that if Iran was not happy to send its own uranium to Russia then we can look for a third alternative station to store Iranian uranium. We agreed that Turkey would be a possible alternative before Iran actually agreed to this step. This is not a problem for us.
Regarding the participation of Turkey and Brazil in the upcoming negotiations then this is up to the capitals concerned to decide. This is something that is related to the composition of the negotiations and whether or not they will change. However, if we stop for a second we will ask the question: What are Iran’s motives here? Why do they not come and discuss the fundamental issues instead of focusing on the shape of the table and who is sitting around it?
Last October and later the Iranians said they want the world to take them seriously and that they wanted to discuss the fundamental matters. Our response was: we are ready…we will take you seriously. Come and let us negotiate. Javier Solana (former EU foreign policy and security chief) headed a meeting and representatives from all the Security Council member states and Germany reached an agreement, and then the Iranians boycotted the negotiations. After the Geneva negotiations, we asked the Iranians twice to resume the negotiations and their response was: no. Now they say: we will negotiate if an agreement is reached over these conditions: we want to talk about Israel and we want Brazil and Turkey to participate. Our response is this: How many times do we have to talk about the shape of the [negotiations] table. Let us not talk about the shape of the table, let us talk about the issues on the table.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] On 21 June 2010, Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran’s atomic energy agency, announced that Tehran will not allow two of the IAEA inspectors into Iran and accused them of altering information in the latest IAEA report on Iran. Is there any tension between Tehran and the IAEA, and is there any information about the nationality of those two inspectors?
[Davies] Iran did indeed prevent two inspectors from entering. However, it is up to the IAEA to reveal this information. It is also up to the IAEA to respond to the Iranian accusations. Amano denied these accusations and they are very grave accusations. I have not seen any proof that these claims are true. Our position is that the IAEA inspectors must be free to record anything they see during the inspection period. It is worrying that Iran has taken such a step. However, this is not the first time Tehran behaves in such a way that is aimed at intimidating international inspectors and at reducing the level of cooperation with the IAEA. However, in doing so it is increases the international concern over its intentions. As for the nationality of the inspectors, then I cannot respond to this. It is up to the IAEA to respond.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Many Arab countries have turned toward building nuclear reactors to use in generating energy for peaceful purposes. This has become an economic necessity. Everyone needs more energy resources at a lower cost. Some countries in the region, such as Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates want to build nuclear reactors. However, at the same time, America has cause for concern, especially pertaining to the enrichment of uranium on the territories of those countries. Negotiations continue between America and some countries in the region over this point. What are the causes of American concern?
[Davies] I am not sure I agree with your description of the matter. However, on the whole, America welcomes the development of peaceful nuclear energy programs by all countries including the countries you mentioned, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and other countries. The IAEA was created specifically for such matters. Our concern is not in the fact that countries in the region are thinking about building peaceful nuclear reactors to produce energy. If we expressed any concern, then it is simply over making sure that the nuclear program adheres to international guarantees and standards and that nuclear material will not be used in activities other than peaceful activities. The concerns are within this framework and no more. Any concern from our side is simply related to the prevention of nuclear proliferation. This is why President Obama spoke in detail about a world free of nuclear weapons and supported civil use of nuclear energy. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced at the end of the nuclear non-proliferation conference that we held in New York in May 2010 that America will voluntarily donate 50 million dollars in support of the peaceful use of nuclear energy, not only for using nuclear fuel to generate energy, but also for utilizing nuclear energy in the field of medicine and agriculture. America helps to develop the peaceful use of nuclear energy more than any other country in the world because nuclear technology could help in finding solutions for many of the world problems.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] In principle then, you do not object to the enrichment of uranium on the soil of these countries that want to build nuclear reactors for peaceful use as long as these countries respect their commitments in accordance with nuclear proliferation.
[Davies] If a country said it wants to build a nuclear reactor to generate power for its people, or to build a research reactor to provide medical isotopes then this is something we fully support. However, if a country talks about building a nuclear facility to enrich uranium then we will be very keen to talk with that country about the reasons why it wants to do so and what its plans are because the enrichment of uranium is a very complex and difficult issue and could lead to the danger of nuclear proliferation.
Our response to the issue of enrichment is that there is a need to establish a nuclear world bank. We have indeed started this process. If a country that has a nuclear reactor wants to buy nuclear fuel, then it can go to one of the nuclear fuel banks, regardless of political considerations. This means that the bank will be established completely on trade grounds. The idea of an international nuclear fuel bank is there in the founding charter of the IAEA and this is the safe way to prevent nuclear proliferation. Enrichment is very expensive and difficult and even dangerous for each country to establish its own enrichment facilities.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] But some IAEA member states and countries in the region have expressed concern over the idea of a nuclear fuel bank and have said that the idea [of having such a bank] prevents countries in the region from enriching [uranium].
[Davies] The issue is not that America can say whether or not countries can create their own enrichment facilities. The issue is that of the adherence of countries that have signed the non-proliferation treaty. If a country wanted to build enrichment facilities of its own then the important issue is for it to be in accordance with international commitments. As for America, and here I am talking about America and not the IAEA or the nuclear non-proliferation system, then America will go to those countries that want to carry out enrichment on their soil and discuss the issue with them and try and understand from them why they want to create enrichment facilities on their soil. However, the US does not say to the country: you cannot enrich [uranium] this is in the hands of the IAEA and the nuclear non-proliferation system. The US is not a referee in the World Cup and does not have a yellow card.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Regarding Syria, how do you assess the current Syrian cooperation with the IAEA?
[Davies] The Syrian cooperation with the IAEA is insufficient. The problem is that they allowed the IAEA to inspect the Dayr al-Zawr reactor one time a while ago and the IAEA came up with more questions than answers about what is going on there. Syria says there was no nuclear reactor there and the agency said: we have found evidence of activities that you said had not taken place. Our position vis-à-vis Syria was: if you were not violating the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, then why do you not allow IAEA inspectors into the Dayr al-Zawr location? Let the inspectors do their work at that location and talk to engineers and scientists at the location. This is when Syria started going around in circles and denying any secret activities. However, America will not let the matter go. America insists that Syria fulfill its international nuclear non-proliferation duties and it must respond to the IAEA questions.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you suspect a link between the Dayr al-Zawr reactor and Syrian-Iranian cooperation?
[Davies] I do not think this is where the problem lies. We have no information in this regard. However, the problem here is North Korea’s role in building the Dayr al-Zawr reactor. We are convinced that Syria is working illegally with North Korea to circumvent the nuclear non-proliferation system. There are some very important questions, especially for the region if a country suddenly and secretly starts to cooperate with a rogue state, that is North Korea, which has withdrawn from the nuclear weapons non-proliferation treaty in a secret effort to acquire nuclear capabilities. This will lead to a series of questions toward Syria over the reason why they are doing it secretly.