Iran ready to remove U.N. seals at nuclear sites

Iran ready to remove U.N. seals at nuclear sitesMon Jan 9, 2006
By Parisa Hafezi

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran confirmed it would resume research on nuclear fuel on Monday, prompting swift warnings by Germany of "consequences" and by the head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog that the world was running out of patience with Tehran.

"Iran will today resume nuclear fuel research as scheduled," government spokesman Gholamhossein Elham told a news conference on Monday morning.

Germany, France and Britain have been trying for over two years to persuade Iran to abandon its uranium enrichment programme, which could be used to make atom bomb fuel.

The EU and the United States suspect Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons, a charge Iran strongly denies.

EU and U.S. officials have said a resumption of research could lead to Tehran being referred to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told reporters an Iranian resumption of research "cannot be left without consequences. We will discuss it with our colleagues from France and Great Britain ... by Thursday at the latest."

"It would be a breach of the agreements we reached in Paris ... " he said, referring to the November 2004 accord in which Iran agreed to freeze its enrichment programme while in talks with the EU trio.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Mohamed ElBaradei added to the pressure on Iran to hold its hand.

"I am running out of patience, the international community is running out of patience, the credibility of the verification process is at stake and I'd like, come March, which is my next report, to be able to clarify these issues," he told Sky Television in an interview to be broadcast on Monday.

"Everybody would like to see us clarifying the remaining issues, everybody would like to see a regime by which the international community is assured that the Iranian programme is exclusively for peaceful purposes and there are still a number of issues we are looking at," he said.

Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik, whose country holds the EU presidency, said Iran's decision was "the wrong step in the wrong direction and is a cause of very serious concern".

Iran insists its nuclear ambitions are entirely peaceful and says it has the right to enrich uranium on its own soil.

"Iran will never abandon its legitimate right to nuclear technology, obtained by the young Iranian scientists," state television quoted Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the ultimate say on state matters, as saying.

The EU and the United States back a plan put forward by Moscow for Iran to enrich uranium in Russia, which would ensure the uranium was enriched only to levels where it could be used to generate electricity and not to make nuclear bombs.

Talks between Russia and Iran on the proposal ended on Sunday without any progress but are due to resume on February 16.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was due on Monday to hold his first major news conference since taking office in August.

MISTRUST IN THE WEST

A staunch conservative, Ahmadinejad has resolutely refused to renounce Iran's right to uranium enrichment and has stirred up more mistrust in the West by dismissing the Holocaust as "a myth" and calling Israel a "tumour" to be "wiped off the earth".

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told a news conference on Sunday Iran would restart work when the IAEA, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, was ready to supervise the removal of seals it put in place two years ago to freeze activities while talks went ahead.

The IAEA said two letters sent by Iran to explain its move left key questions unresolved and the Vienna-based agency said it had asked for more information. If Iran complies with the IAEA requests, the restart of nuclear work could be delayed.

Iran has not publicly disclosed what activities it plans to resume. Diplomats and analysts say atomic research and development (R&D) could involve some laboratory tests of uranium enrichment and assembly of centrifuge enrichment machines.

That would mean all of Iran's nuclear programme was active once again, apart from uranium enrichment at an unfinished plant at Natanz.

Diplomats close to the IAEA said that if Iran went ahead and restarted nuclear R&D it would prompt a report to the IAEA's 35-nation board of governors which would then decide whether to call an emergency full meeting of all member countries.

That meeting could decide whether to refer Iran to the U.N. Security Council which could impose sanctions.

But Khamenei said Iran would survive any sanctions.

"The sanctions imposed on Iran have made Iranians rely on their own capabilities," the official IRNA news agency quoted Khamenei as saying. "So, sanctions will have no impact on Iran."

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