Western information assert Iran so close to A-bomb

U.S. urges Europe to slap more sanctions as Congress passes recent ones

Western proposal to hold meeting with Iran, IAEA

Kissinger: War is long in Afghanistan

General Petraeus backs Afghanistan pullout plan after modification

Russia hopes Iran will react positively to an initiative to hold a meeting of experts from Russia, France, the United States and the International Atomic Energy Agency on fuel supplies for the Teheran research rector, the Russian Foreign Minister said.

"Russia, the United States and France suggested that the IAEA Director General [Yukiya Amano] organize a meeting of technical experts from our three countries and Iran to solve issues of fuel supplies for the Teheran research reactor, with the understanding that Iran will halt enriching [uranium] to 20 percent," Sergei Lavrov said.

"I expect Iran to respond positively, as it will resolve a difficult situation," the minister said.

Western powers suspect Iran of attempting to build nuclear weapons and the UN Security Council approved on June 9 the fourth round of economic sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program, including tougher financial controls and an expanded arms embargo, as well as an asset ban and a travel freeze on more than three dozen companies and individuals.

Following the resolution, the United States and the European Union also announced that they were imposing new sanctions on Iran.

Tehran maintains that its nuclear program is aimed at generating peaceful civilian energy.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Monday Tehran would put off talks with the Iran Six (Russia, the United States, Britain, France, Germany and China) over its nuclear program until the end of August to "punish" the West for imposing fresh economic sanctions.

Also on Monday Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said he was worried about U.S. secret intelligence data showing that Iran has enough enriched uranium to construct two nuclear bombs.

Shortly before the sanctions were approved, the Iranian, Brazilian, and Turkish foreign ministers agreed that Iran will swap in Turkey most of its 3.5%-enriched uranium for 20%-enriched fuel for use in its Tehran scientific research reactor.

Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told reporters on Wednesday that Iran, Turkey and Brazil will soon resume talks on the nuclear fuel swap deal known as the Tehran Declaration.

On May 17, Iran, Turkey, and Brazil signed a declaration according to which, Iran would ship 1200 kilograms of its low-enriched uranium to Turkey to be exchanged for 120 kilograms of 20 percent enriched nuclear fuel rods to power the Tehran research reactor, which produces radioisotopes for cancer treatment.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday that Russia and the U.S. had offered to hold talks with Iran on the provision of nuclear fuel. "I very much hope that Iran will agree to this and this will give an opportunity to prevent the deterioration of the situation," Lavrov said.

On Russia's offer, Mottaki said, "Our criterion would be the Tehran Declaration and we will review the Tehran agreement on fuel swap with Turkey and Brazil and after consultations with these two countries, (we) will announce our final view."

On Iran's response to a letter by the Vienna group (the U.S., Russia and France), Mottaki said Iran will consult with Turkey and Brazil and then will prepare its response.

About Iran's letters to fifteen members of the Security Council, he said the overall content of the letters is Tehran's complaint about the council's sanctions resolution.

On June 9, the UN Security Council approved the fourth round of sanctions against Iran in a 12-2 vote, but Brazil and Turkey voted against the resolution and Lebanon abstained.

Elsewhere in his remarks, he said Iran believes that certain countries, which have different approaches, should be added to the 5+1 group (the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany) in negotiations over Iran's nuclear issue.

Therefore, an "assortment of votes" can help the negotiations make progress, he added.

A defiant Iran said on Thursday it has told UN Security Council members that new sanctions will not affect its nuclear program, prompting France to say Tehran was not heading in the right direction.

Tehran "considers that the adoption of such (UN) resolutions will not affect its utterly peaceful nuclear program," the official IRNA news agency quoted Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki as saying in letters to the 15 Security Council members.

Instead, Mottaki said in his letters to the countries' foreign ministers that Iran is now "more determined" than ever to develop its atomic program.

He criticized "the hasty adoption, at the insistence of America and its allies, of an unjust and illegal resolution against the great nation of Iran."

In France, foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said "very clear messages have been addressed to Iran so that it finally agrees to engage in talks on its sensitive activities."

"The letters received from Manouchehr Mottaki are not going in the right direction. What we expect from Iran is that it addresses the concerns of the international community with concrete measures," he said.

On June 9, 12 members of the Security Council, including all five permanent members, voted in favor of imposing a fourth set of sanctions on Tehran over its uranium enrichment program, the most controversial aspect of the nuclear drive.

Brazil and Turkey, which had brokered a nuclear swap deal with Iran in May, voted against and Lebanon abstained. Mottaki thanked Turkey and Brazil for "resisting the pressure of some specific nations and voting against the resolution," IRNA said.

He also reiterated Tehran's position that "nuclear weapons have no place in Iran's defense and security policies."

World powers led by Washington accuse the Islamic republic of seeking to build nuclear weapons and are demanding that it freeze its uranium enrichment activity, which can be a key step towards developing an atomic arsenal.

Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only.

Last month, CIA director Leon Panetta warned that Iran has enough low-enriched uranium to make two weapons, which it could have prepared and ready for delivery as early as 2012.

"We think they have enough low-enriched uranium for two weapons," Panetta told ABC television's "This Week" program.

Tehran would need a year to enrich it fully to produce a bomb and it would take "another year to develop the kind of weapon delivery system in order to make that viable," he said.

The new UN measures against Tehran authorize states to conduct high-seas inspections of vessels believed to be ferrying banned items to Iran and add 40 entities to a list of people and groups subject to travel restrictions and financial sanctions.

Meanwhile, US President Barack Obama was expected on Thursday to sign a separate US package of tough new energy and financial sanctions on Iran, over and above those approved by the UN Security Council.

The US Senate and the House of Representatives approved the legislation last week by crushing 99-0 and 408-8 margins, respectively.

Iran’s parliament speaker Ali Larijani told reporters in Syria on Thursday the US sanctions were "meaningless" and would have "little impact on Iran."

Larijani, formerly Iran's top nuclear negotiator, accused the United States of pressuring Iran to give up support for the Palestinian cause, saying that would never happen.

The new measures aim to choke off Iran's access to imports of refined petroleum products like gasoline and jet fuel and curb its access to the international banking system.

The European Union too slapped a separate set of sanctions on Iran soon after the UN measures were imposed.

The UN nuclear watchdog said Thursday its top investigator Olli Heinonen, head of the agency's long-running investigations into Iran and Syria, would step down next month "for personal reasons."

Meanwhile, Dr. Henry Kissinger, US Secretary of State under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford and informal adviser to subsequent occupants of the White House, spoke to the Financial Times on June 25 about the war in the Afghanistan in the wake of Barack Obama’s decision to accept the resignation of Gen Stanley McChrystal as commander of the Nato and US-led forces.

Dr Kissinger supports Mr Obama’s goals in Afghanistan, but says current plans to begin handing over responsibility to Afghan forces in July 2011 – and to begin drawing down US troops at that time - are unrealistic.

While he calls for Gen David Petraeus, Gen McChrystal’s prospective replacement in the field, to look at that strategy anew, he says the Afghan commander should do so discreetly, rather than initiating a protracted high profile review of the sort that President Obama chaired last year.

FT: Can, in any conventional sense of the word, Petraeus win this war in Afghanistan?

Dr Kissinger: In the traditional sense of fighting against an adversary with whom it is possible to make an enforceable agreement, no. In the sense of gradually defeating the insurgency and reducing it to impotence, theoretically yes, but it would take more time than the American political system would permit.

FT: So what are the prospects?

Dr Kissinger: To announce a terminal date when the attrition of the opponent is one of the elements of the strategy lets the adversary regulate his own intensity of combat and gives him a deadline. It seems to me an unwise procedure.

FT: So is there an urgent need for Obama to rethink the strategy?

Dr Kissinger: There’s a need for him to rethink the deadline and there is a need to rethink the way it has been designed. It has been designed to turn over the responsibility for security to an Afghan government on a national basis. That, I think, would be very difficult, at least within the stated time limits.

FT: So you’re saying that you need less ambitious, less centralised goals and more time?

Dr Kissinger: Right, but I don’t want my views to be considered an attack on the president’s general view. I agree with the objective he has stated both in his West Point speech [announcing a 30,000 troop surge to Afghanistan last December] and when he dismissed Gen McChrystal.

FT: But the manner in which it is being implemented, the strategy, is something that is imminent need of being rethought?

Dr Kissinger: It needs adaptation to realities.

FT: The plan is to look at this all in December. Is that waiting too long?

Dr Kissinger: I think the underlying strategy would be best reviewed as Gen Petraeus is taking over. If you leave the strategy in place and you want to gauge how effective it is or how much progress has been made, December is reasonable. If you want to take another look at the strategy without a great announcement, a review with Gen Petraeus might be appropriate. But I would not make a big public announcement about that.

FT: What is at stake if the US does keep to this unrealistic timetable and these unrealistic goals?

Dr Kissinger: The basic issue is that the diplomatic and military elements of the current strategy are not compatible with each other. The military strategy cannot be accomplished within the deadlines and the deadline encourages the adversaries to wait us out.

FT: But do you also argue that a precipitate withdrawal projects weakness?

Dr Kissinger: Rather than weakness, it projects above all ambivalence.

FT: Does Obama need to take a firm hand to the civilian hand of this effort, with the article revealing the difficult relations between McChrystal and people like US Ambassador Karl Eikenberry and special envoy Richard Holbrooke?

Dr Kissinger: It’s essential that there is a strategy that is carried out by the civilian and military elements together. Holbrooke is being unfairly attacked. I don’t think he’s ever had any significant authority with respect to Afghanistan. He is a somewhat challenging personality but he has performed admirably in every previous job, so I think he is not, in terms of his abilities, an obstacle.

FT: And Eikenberry, whose memo doubting some of the fundamentals of the strategy has become so public?

Dr Kissinger: It would be essential that the ambassador and the theatre commander have parallel views. You can’t throw the execution of policy open to permanent debate at that level.

It should be debated before the policy is established, but the execution of it cannot be subject to a monthly debate.

FT: There are people who say give this more time.

Dr Kissinger: I agree we need time and patience and having been involved in a war with some similar characteristics, the last thing the administration needs is to be harassed by people pressuring them from the outside.

So my basic attitude is to be supportive of the overall effort administration and to support the objectives that the president stated in his relief of General McChrystal.

But I do think that the basic premise that you can work towards a national government that can replace the American security effort in a deadline of 12 months provides a mechanism for failure. On the other hand, if we are willing to pursue the stated objective the public must be prepared for a long struggle. This is a choice that needs to be made explicitly or else we should look for intermediate objectives.

On the other hand, Gen. David Petraeus left open the possibility of recommending that President Barack Obama delay his plans to start withdrawing troops from Afghanistan next summer if the new commander can't turn around the stalemated war.

"There will be an assessment at the end of this year after which undoubtedly we'll make certain tweaks, refinements, perhaps some significant changes," Petraeus told a Senate panel Tuesday of the battle plan and the timeline Obama has laid out.

The Senate Armed Services Committee quickly approved Petraeus for the job of running the Afghan war, and the full Senate was expected to confirm him Wednesday. Obama nominated Petraeus to take over from the disgraced Gen. Stanley McChrystal, fired last week for disparaging remarks about his civilian bosses.

Petraeus also told senators that he may change the war's battlefield rules, designed to limit civilian casualties and improve support for the foreign forces fighting the Taliban-led insurgency. Some troops and congressional Republicans complain they handicap U.S. forces.

Obama has said troops will begin to leave in July 2011, but that the pace and size of the withdrawal will depend upon conditions.

Petraeus did not rule out a significant exodus then, as Vice President Joe Biden favors, but he would not promise one either. Petraeus has previously said that he would recommend putting off any large-scale withdrawal if security conditions in Afghanistan can't sustain it.

The general, credited with turning around the Iraq war after the height of sectarian violence there in 2006, told the Senate panel that Obama wants him to provide unvarnished military advice.

He did not paint a rosy picture on Tuesday.

"My sense is that the tough fighting will continue; indeed, it may get more intense in the next few months," Petraeus said.

"As we take away the enemy's safe havens and reduce the enemy's freedom of action, the insurgents will fight back."

Beneath bipartisan rounds of praise for Petraeus lay fault lines over the nearly nine-year war. A make-or-break military push across southern Afghanistan is stuck in neutral, though U.S. officials insist there are signs of progress and reason for hope.

"On the Democratic side, there is solid support. But there's also the beginnings of fraying of that support" for the war, committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said ahead of Tuesday's session.

As the number of troop deaths rise, support for the war is dropping in the United States and Europe. June is the deadliest month of the war so far, with the total U.S. deaths above 1,000, and the new British government says it wants its troops out in five years.

A careful student of politics, Petraeus gave something to everyone while leaving himself room to maneuver.

For Democrats and his White House masters, Petraeus endorsed Obama's revamped war strategy and the plan to begin withdrawing U.S. forces from the unpopular fight next July.

The exit plan isn't just a sop to American liberals opposed to the conflict, Petraeus said under questioning from skeptical Republicans.

He made clear he is wary of deadlines, but said he values the sense of urgency Obama's timeline conveys.

"I'm convinced it was not just for domestic political purposes," he said. "It was for audiences in Kabul, who, again, needed to be reminded that we won't be there forever."

For Republicans uneasy about the strict rules of engagement, Petraeus promised a hard examination. In particular, he will look at the way the "tactical directive" is applied.

The directive is the guidance given to commanders on when they can rely on heavy firepower such as attack helicopters to protect troops under attack. McChrystal had limited the circumstances under which such bombing could be used.

Petraeus said he believes the rules and the reasoning behind them are basically sound.

"That's an area we have to look very closely at because, of course, if you drop a bomb on a house, if you're not sure who's in it, you can kill a lot of innocent civilians in a hurry," he told the Senate panel.

At the same time, Petraeus said he is concerned that some commanders were "making this more bureaucratic or more restrictive than necessary when our troops and our Afghan partners are in a tough spot.

"And when they are in a tough spot, it's a moral imperative that we use everything we have to ensure that they get out of it," he said.

The only fireworks came when Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, sharply questioned Petraeus about whether he agreed with White House suggestions that the pullout will occur on schedule, no matter what Afghanistan looks like in a year's time.

"Somebody needs to get it straight without doubt what the hell we're going to do in Afghanistan," Graham said.

Petraeus suggested that the infighting between U.S. military and civilian officials responsible for Afghanistan policy would end. Several times throughout the hearing, Petraeus said he already had been in close contact with Karl Eikenberry, the top diplomat in Afghanistan who sparred with McChrystal.

Petraeus said the two planned to meet in Brussels this week to confer with NATO officials before flying together to Kabul.

Petraeus became chief of U.S. Central Command following his time in Iraq. In that job he oversaw both wars but had no direct battlefield responsibility. The Afghanistan job is technically a step down, albeit one that came at the direct request of the commander in chief.