Jerusalem, Dec. 15 – Iranian and Western officials are striking pessimistic notes regarding the prospects for a breakthrough in broad talks aimed at decreasing opacity around Iran's atomic program. Meanwhile Tehran may be dragging out more limited negotiations over granting United Nations inspectors access to a key military facility where Iran is suspected of ongoing efforts to destroy evidence of nuclear weapons-related research.
Top Iranian nuclear negotiator Mostafa Dolatyar, who heads the Iranian foreign ministry's think tank, described himself as "not optimistic" that talks will be fruitful. Dolatyar's statement, in which he blasted the approach of the P5+1 countries seeking negotiations with Iran as "purely political," is in tension with leaks and rumors to the effect that an upgraded P5+1 offer to Iran had the potential to move negotiations. As of mid-week U.S. and European officials continued to emphasize that they saw "no hint" that Iran was prepared to pursue talks.
Meanwhile a visit to Iran by inspectors from the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog seems to have made limited progress. Initially Tehran rejected requestsby the IAEA to visit the Iranian military installation at Parchin, where intelligence reports indicate that Iran had conducted work relevant to building nuclear weapons. Late-breaking news on Friday, however, carried statements from IAEA officials to the effect that access to Parchin might eventually be granted after having originally been denied.
It is still unclear when the concession would be granted, and some analysts have expressed skepticism that inspections of Parchin would at this point prove fruitful. The IAEA has been reporting since at least Maythat Iran was "cleansing" the facility of evidence, and the agency reported that cleansing was "ongoing" as recently as last month.
Iran continues to signal readiness to attack its neighbors and foment regional instability. A high-ranking official in Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps, perhaps attempting to reassure Western diplomats that Iran would be content with the eradication of the Jewish State and would not target American and European interests, declared that Israel is the key "target" of Iran's missile program. Aerospace Force Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh further boasted to reporters that Tehran can ensure that "nothing will be left of Israel." The statement is unlikely to reassure diplomats pushing Iran to open all aspects of its atomic program to inspection. It was also taken in some circles as unblinkingly disingenuous, with analysts pointing to evidence Iran's intercontinental ballistic missile program has achieved ranges that reach into Eastern Europe.