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Iran warned time running out for negotiated nuclear settlement

Iran faces mounting international pressure on nuclear issue. UN considering withdrawal from Congo. Militants bombard French hosted talks in Afghanistan. Obama calls for extension of universal rights to China. US demands release of Burmese dissidents. Clinton outlines narrow goals in Afghanistan. All this and much more in today's update.
Maddy Fry
16 November 2009

Western leaders have warned that time is running out for Iranian leaders to meet international demands on their nuclear plans. US President Barack Obama has stated that Iran has failed “so far” to give positive signals over the deal put forward by the governments of the US, France and Russia, which depend on Iran sending its uranium overseas to be processed. 

The plan, which President Obama has called “a creative and constructive approach”, would involve 70% of Iran’s uranium being sent to Russia to be processed before then being taken to France to be turned into fuel rods for use in the reactors of Tehran. If implemented, it would hopefully satisfy Iran’s energy needs as well as reassuring those concerned that nuclear material could not be converted for use in a nuclear bomb. Yet Iran has so far refused to commit to the idea, insisting that its nuclear programme is entirely peaceful.

Russia and America made a rare display of unity yesterday when both agreed publicly to warn the Iranian government that, if it did not agree to the restrictions, it would face harsh consequences. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev warned “other options” might have to be pursued if Iran continued to impede progress, which some have seen as a hint at the possibility of sanctions being imposed on the regime.

The openSecurity verdict: Although the coordinated public statements of Russia and America indicated an apparent unity of resolve, the international politics surrounding Iran's nuclear ambitions are unsurprisingly more turgid. Russia has sent out mixed messages, on the one hand endorsing further negotiations as the sole resolution while simultaneously claiming that it would be prepared to go beyond the sanctions already in place against the regime in Tehran, most recently highlighted by a refusal to supply it with a much sought-after missile defence system. Israel has refused to rule out the possibility of launching an attack upon the country’s nuclear infrastructure. Obama will most likely continue to try and persuade China to agree to further action, including possible sanctions, via the United Nations Security Council in order to help solidify and quicken a response.

The present proposals are however unlikely to be the last placed before the disputing parties. Plans have supposedly been discussed for the regime to export its uranium to Turkey as a form of compromise. Similarly, even if the country was to agree to America’s demands, there would be little to stop it from continuing to enrich uranium to the point where it could replenish the amount it exports (1,200 kg) in less than a year. This is particularly worrisome given the fact that even if the main nuclear plant at Natanz was attacked, a back-up plant near the city of Qom could continue with enrichment. The plant is reportedly too small for fuel purposes but contains space for 3,000 centrifuges – enough for a bomb. Although Iran insists there is “no secrecy” surrounding its nuclear ambitions, America in particular remains suspicious.

Pressure on UN to withdraw troops from Congo

The UN has been preparing an exit strategy for its mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, it was revealed yesterday. For the past ten years the peacekeeping initiative, MONUC, has been trying to promote stability within the country after the outbreak of the civil war in 1998. By 2003, 5.4m people had been killed in the conflict. The Congolese president, JosephKabila, has been pressuring the Security Council to withdraw troops before the nation’s 50 th anniversary next year, largely, it is thought, so he can demonstrate the country’s independence from UN support in time for the occasion. However, senior UN officials are predicting that the withdrawal is unlikely to take anything less than two years.

French targeted in Afghan attacks

Militants are said to have killed four people and wounded another 38 today after launching two rockets into the town of Tagab in Kapisa province whilst French security forces were holding talks with Afghan tribal elders. Representatives from the French military feel sure that the meeting was the focus of the attack, which included members of the law-enforcement community in Afghanistan as well as officials and religious leaders. Alongside NATO forces, France has over 3,000 troops at various points in the area of Afghanistan north-east of Kabul.

Obama pleads for extension of “universal rights” in China

In front of a meeting of students in Shanghai, President Barack Obama claimed that the kinds of rights apparently enjoyed in the US such as free speech, religious tolerance and freedom of information should not just be seen as exclusively Western and should instead be enjoyed everywhere. Although he made no specific mention of any of the Chinese government’s policies, the comments were seen as a veiled reference to the rights of Uighurs and Tibetans. The event was part of Obama’s tour of China which is hoped to improve relations between the two countries.

US demands release of Burmese dissident

President Barack Obama called openly and bluntly for the Burmese military junta to release the pro-democracy campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest for fourteen years, at a summit of the leaders of south-east Asian nations, which included Burmese Prime Minister Thein Sein. Such a direct demand in the presence of Burmese officials is rare on the diplomatice stage. Obama called for the release all political prisoners and an end to the persecution of ethnic minority groups.

Clinton insists US is uninterested in any “long-term presence” in Afghanistan

US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton yesterday stated that the primary goal of US strategy in Afghanistan is to remove al-Qaeda and not to make attempts at re-building the country. Although she claimed that US forces seek to “give the Afghans the tools that they need to be able to defend themselves,” she maintained that the US first and foremost seeks only to get rid of those in the country whom it perceives as a threat to its own security. Clinton attempt to clearly delimit American objectives comes as President Barack Obama deliberates over whether to send a further 40,000 soldiers to Afghanistan, a suggestion that has drawn criticism from some in the Democratic Party. Hilary Clinton also stated that the US expects an improved performance from Afghan president Hamid Karzai, emphasising the importance of tackling corruption and fraud and responding to the needs of civilians.

 

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