The diplomatic track for compelling Iran to comply with its international obligations over its nuclear ambitions appears to be coming to a crashing end. On February 21, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will deliver a report to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on Iran’s compliance with Resolution 1737, which was passed with a unanimous vote in December to compel Tehran to halt all uranium enrichment activities. Failure to demonstrate compliance will lead to legally-binding Chapter VII sanctions. The Iranian leadership, however, has stepped up its enrichment program and is preparing to hold a “Nuclear Festival” on Sunday, February 11, where a major announcement is promised that will escalate the crisis.
A preliminary report delivered by the IAEA to the UNSC in January, according to a source who read the report, suggests that Iran will announce the successful completion of at least 6 cascades of possibly 3,000 centrifuges at the Natanz facility south of Tehran. The installation will serve as the “cornerstone,” the report states, for a cascade hall that will ultimately house nearly 54,000 centrifuges with the capability of producing enough fissile material for two nuclear bombs per year. Observations of recently increased activity at the site, where technicians have been installing a massive array of pipes, cables, machinery and air conditioning units, appears to confirm the intention. If true, the declaration will mark considerable progress in the uranium enrichment program and will effectively close the door for further negotiations ahead of the February 21 deadline.
The declaration will cap the 10-day celebrations underway to mark the 28th anniversary of the Ayatollah Khomeini’s return to Tehran and nationwide war game exercises conducted by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps codenamed “The Great Prophet.” President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad has recently dropped hints in public speeches about the nature of the statement but the head of Iran’s judiciary, Ayatollah Hashemi Shahroudi, warned on February 4 that the “Iranian people and officials will stand hand in hand in February 11 rallies to show the entire world that the Islamic Iran stands up to the bullying and expansionist stances and demands of the United States.”
Alireza Jafarzadeh, who revealed evidence of Iran’s previously secret enrichment program in 2002, said on Monday’s edition of Global Crisis Watch that the announcement will serve not only to rally domestic support for the program but also “to show that they are moving forward, that they are going to defy the international community and (to) try to force the international community to further negotiate with the Iranian regime obviously from a weaker position now supposedly that they have this nuclear victory.” [Listen here]
Despite Iran’s intransigence, however, the Chapter VII sanctions that were passed by the UNSC in December are confined only to suppliers of technology and materials as well as individuals and organizations that can be linked to the program. Resolution 1737 explicitly limits the sanctions to non-military options.
A State Department official told The Fourth Rail that the United States will work vigorously to ensure that the sanctions impact Iran. “We will work with our allies to increase the sanctions,” he said “to increase the pressure and increase the price that they will pay for continued non-compliance.”
Meanwhile, speculation is buiding that the U.S. is considering military options and will have two naval carriers – the USS Eisenhower and the USS John C. Stennis – in the region by mid-to-late February. The deployment of the Stennis, according to Stratfor, however, is routine and it will replace the Eisenhower, which leaves the Gulf in April.
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