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Tensions high as nuclear talks begin

October 8th, 2009

A little over a week ago, the international community was shocked to learn that Iran has been building a small underground nuclear facility that they have kept secret for years.

President Barack Obama disclosed this information standing next to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy in a speech at the G-20 summit in Pittsburgh last week.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the heavily guarded facility is buried deep within a mountain about 100 miles southwest of Tehran in the ancient holy city of Qom.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad did not deny the existence of the covert facility, but instead claimed it was for solely peaceful purposes. U.S. intelligence officials have been tracking the site since 2006 and say that, once operational, it would be able to enrich enough uranium each year to make one nuclear warhead.

One of the major issues with the facilities is the size: about 3,000 centrifuges. According to the Los Angeles Times, intelligence officials said this is not big enough to generate enough fuel for a civilian power plant. However, it is just big enough to produce nuclear bomb grade material.

This revelation came at a pivotal time, about one week before Iran met with the United States and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, plus Germany, for nuclear talks in Geneva.

At these talks, Iran agreed to allow inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the nuclear watchdog of the United Nations, to evaluate the newly discovered facility.

Furthermore, they agreed to send most of their already declared enriched uranium to other countries, primarily Russia.

Jen Ziemke, a political science professor at John Carroll University, said, “Only time will tell whether Iran’s apparent move toward engagement with the international community represent genuine steps toward cooperation or whether these moves are a bluff, simply meant to buy Iran more time so they can further consolidate their power and nuclear capabilities.”

According to The New York Times, this concession by Iran is a victory for the West because it greatly reduces Iran’s ability to quickly produce a nuclear weapon.

“In recent days, both sides have made small but important steps toward compromise and resolution,” said Ziemke

“The international community, for its part, has agreed in principle to accept Iran’s right to develop nuclear capabilities for peaceful purposes only. In exchange, Iran has agreed to inspections of its facility in Qom and to sending uranium abroad in order to prove its intentions are peaceful in nature,” she said.

Although Obama called the talks constructive, he also said, “We’re not interested in talking for the sake of talking. If Iran does not take steps in the near future to live up to its obligations, then the United States will not continue to negotiate indefinitely.”

And recent actions by the Iranian regime seem to question its sincerity in negotiations. Only a few weeks previous to the start of negotiations, Iran test-fired its most advanced missiles, which are capable of reaching targets in Israel.

During the U.N. meeting in New York, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad once again called the Holocaust a lie.

According to The Associated Press, right after the first session of negotiations ended, Mehdi Saffare, Iran’s ambassador to Britain and a member of the Iranian delegation to the negotiations declared that the issue of sending Iran’s uranium out of the country had not been discussed yet.

Therefore, if negotiations fail, the Obama administration has made it clear that it will impose a harsh batch of sanctions on Iran, a move supported by a number of members from the international community.

The administration has been trying to persuade China and Russia, members of the U.N. Security Council, to support stronger sanctions. The two countries have historically been opposed to this move because of their economic ties with Iran.