|Iran, the next battlefield|
- Thursday, August 11 2005, 1:34:13 (CEST)|
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Iran May Draw Rebuke Over Nuke Activities
VIENNA, Austria - The U.N. nuclear watchdog postponed a meeting Wednesday so diplomats could seek consensus over how to rebuke Iran for resuming activities that could lead to an atomic weapon, even as U.N. seals were broken on equipment at a uranium conversion plant in Iran.
International Atomic Energy Agency board members were seeking to persuade Iran to reimpose a voluntary suspension of uranium conversion and enrichment. They have the authority to report Iran to the U.N. Security Council, which could trigger punitive sanctions, but there was no talk of that at an emergency meeting of the agency's 35-nation board.
Signaling how difficult it was for delegates to agree on the best response to Tehran's decision to restart uranium conversion, board members canceled a session tentatively planned for Wednesday afternoon. It was unclear when the meeting would resume.
"They need more time," IAEA spokesman Peter Rickwood said. Diplomats were expected to continue negotiations privately on a resolution urging Iran to suspend its latest nuclear activities.
The U.N. agency later confirmed that its seals at the Uranium Conversion Facility in Isfahan, 255 miles south of Tehran, were broken under its supervision, paving the way for Tehran to fully open the plant despite U.S. and European calls for it to maintain a suspension.
The agency said it had a surveillance system in place at the facility to keep tabs on the work.
Earlier this week, the Iranians restarted conversion activities at Isfahan with equipment that had not been sealed. Uranium enriched to a low level is used to produce nuclear fuel; further enrichment makes it suitable for use in an atomic bomb.
Iran says its nuclear program is peaceful for generating electricity. But Washington suspects Tehran of having a clandestine weapons program, and President Bush said Tuesday he was "deeply suspicious" about Iran's intentions.
Iran had suspended uranium conversion under an agreement with Britain, France and Germany, which have been negotiating on behalf of the European Union to persuade Tehran to drop its enrichment program in return for incentives. Iran rejected the latest EU offer on Saturday.
Sirus Nasseri, Iran's top delegate to the IAEA, dismissed that offer of economic and political incentives as a package of "lollipops" and argued that moves to curb countries' right to produce their own nuclear power fuel were dangerous.
Countries barred from producing fuel become "dependent on an exclusive cartel of nuclear fuel suppliers — a cartel that has a manifest record of denials and restrictions for political and commercial reasons," he said.
But IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei warned of the "danger of disseminating fuel cycle activities around the world, because that brings us very close to the capability to develop nuclear weapons."
He said he wanted a new framework under which countries would have the right to produce nuclear power, but not to carry out "fuel cycle activities."
Nasseri said Iran wants to continue the EU talks and assure the board that Tehran "never" would leave the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty or abandon IAEA safeguard agreements.
Before Iran resumed conversion, U.S. and EU officials had urged that Tehran be taken to the Security Council for possible sanctions if it abandoned its voluntary suspension.
But a draft resolution crafted by Britain, France and Germany and obtained by The Associated Press did not mention the Security Council.
The text, which could be altered during negotiations, expressed "serious concern" about the resumption of conversion in Isfahan and urged Iran to cooperate by "re-establishing full suspension of all enrichment-related activities."
It also said that "the agency is not yet in a position to conclude that there are no undeclared materials or activities in Iran."
Diplomats said there was little stomach for reporting Tehran to the Security Council, in part out of fears that such a move — the IAEA's last resort — might inflame support within Iran for the regime's nuclear ambitions and scuttle any chances at winning the country over with broader economic incentives.
Envoys from nations like Brazil and Argentina whose own nuclear activities have come under scrutiny also appeared reluctant to subject Iran to restrictions that could be applied to their programs one day.
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