U.N. agency expresses ‘serious concern’ over Iranian nuclear program
VIENNA, Austria – The U.N. nuclear watchdog expressed “serious concern” Thursday over Iran’s resumption of activities that could lead to an atomic bomb, and diplomats said Tehran has a Sept. 3 deadline to stop or face another possible referral to the Security Council.Iran, showing the defiance it has increasingly displayed since its new president was inaugurated last weekend, responded with indignation. Tehran’s chief delegate here vowed that Iran would become a nuclear fuel producer and supplier within a decade.”This resolution is political,” said Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi, according to the state-run news agency. “It comes from American pressure. … It lacks any legal or logical basis and is unacceptable.”The topic of the International Atomic Energy Agency resolution, adopted by consensus by its 35-nation board, was Iran’s move Wednesday to reopen its uranium conversion plant in the mountains outside the southern city of Isfahan.With the plant now working at full force, Iran’s hard-liners are pushing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to ignore European warnings and resume uranium enrichment.Mohammad Javad Larijani, a member of Iran’s powerful Expediency Council, said the transfer of power to Ahmadinejad has given the country an opportunity to change the rules of the game.He called France, Germany and Britain – the countries negotiating with Iran – “three international savages” and said any debate over enrichment is “shameful.”Starting up the enrichment facility, a plant built mainly underground outside the city of Natanz to protect it from airstrikes, would heighten tensions with Europe and the United States. Enrichment is the final step in uranium development, producing either fuel for a nuclear reactor for electricity or material for a nuclear bomb.Iran denies it seeks to develop nuclear weapons and says its program is only for peaceful purposes. But Tehran insists it has the right under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to develop the full fuel cycle, including enrichment.”Any government in Iran that gives up nuclear technology will collapse since the issue has turned into a matter of national pride. There is no doubt that Natanz will resume work sooner rather than later,” said Ahmad Tavakoli, a lawmaker allied with Ahmadinejad.President Bush, meeting at his Texas ranch with his foreign policy team, welcomed the nuclear agency’s warning to Tehran. He also indicated Ahmadinejad will receive a U.S. visa to attend an annual United Nations gathering next month in New York.After the meeting, National Security Adviser Steve Hadley met with reporters and noted that president of Iran indicated that there could be more talks.”We think that is the right step, to have – for Iran to come back into compliance with the Paris Accord, and to resume the negotiations and discussions with the EU-3,” he said.Britain’s Foreign Office said the IAEA resolution “sends a clear message to Iran of what it must do. We still believe there is a non-confrontational way forward if Iran wants to take it.”In Vienna, the nuclear agency asked IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei to deliver a report on Iran’s implementation of nuclear safeguards by Sept. 3. Diplomats made clear that insufficient progress by that date could mean the board would consider referring Iran to the U.N. Security Council, which has the power to impose sanctions. The diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized by their governments to discuss the issue.Thursday’s resolution did not mention the Security Council, given concerns such a move could backfire by hardening Iran’s position. Iran had said it would rather endure sanctions than back down.Security Council diplomats in New York say the IAEA may also be wary of referring Iran to the council because there is a real risk the body would not agree to sanctions. China, for example, has said it opposes bringing the issue before the council, and could use its veto power to block a resolution punishing Iran.U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the IAEA “has spoken with one voice” and he expects its resolution to be implemented, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said at U.N. headquarters in New York.The board’s next scheduled meeting is Sept. 19, but members can call emergency meetings at any time. This week’s meetings were called by France, Germany and Britain after Iran announced it planned to resume uranium conversion.Iran had suspended that process and the subsequent enrichment process under an agreement with the three European Union countries.Tehran saw the text adopted Thursday as unacceptable because it would bar it from enrichment and other related activities that are allowed under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, or NPT, said Sirus Nasseri, the country’s chief IAEA delegate.”All Iran wants to do is to enjoy the right under the NPT, the right which has been denied to it for more than two decades,” he said.He said his country would be a “nuclear fuel producer and supplier within a decade” and dismissed the resolution as an attempt “to apply pressure.”But he also told reporters the Iranians did “not leave the door closed to (the Europeans)” and would, for now, keep the enrichment process suspended “to give a chance for negotiations.””If they wish to negotiate on the enrichment facility in Natanz and how we would put it into operation through an agreed arrangement, we would consider (it),” he said.ElBaradei said he was “very encouraged” by statements from the EU and Iran that the talks would continue.EU envoys said the burden was now on Iran to keep talks alive.”A breakdown will be a matter of regret to the EU, because the EU hoped that it could persuade Iran to take measures that might lead to a restoration of international confidence in Iran’s nuclear intentions,” the statement said. “But the EU is confident that another way of making possible the necessary restoration of confidence in Iran’s nuclear intentions can be found.
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