Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Iran Breaks UN Seals at Nuclear Installations

Daniel Dombey and Gareth Smyth, The Financial Times:
Iran, acting in defiance of the United Nations and the European Union, has removed UN seals at its Natanz unranium plan, the UN’s nuclear watchdog confirmed on Tuesday. On Monday the UN and EU warned Iran not to step up its nuclear programme and risk ending more than two years of negotiations between Tehran and the west.

All five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council – the US, Britain, France, China and Russia – have delivered diplomatic démarches to Iran’s mission in Vienna, calling on Tehran to step back from its threat to resume “research and development” that could involve uranium enrichment – a process that can lead to weapons grade material – in pilot projects.

European diplomats said an emergency meeting of the foreign ministers of France, Germany and the UK could be held this week to discuss this issue. “We will discuss it with our colleagues from France and Great Britain this week, by Thursday at the latest,” Frank-Walter Steinmeier, German foreign minister, said on Monday.

He added that Iran would “face consequences” if it removed UN seals on nuclear installations. Officials said these could include the breaking off of exploratory talks between the EU3 and Iran scheduled forJanuary 18, and lead to an early meeting of the board of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s nuclear watchdog. Such a meeting could set the scene for referral to the Security Council and an end to the EU-Iran negotiations, which began in 2003.

We are at a stage where what is happening this week could turn into a major crisis,” Mohamed ElBaradei, IAEA director-general, told the BBC last night. “Iran informed us it wants to unravel some suspended activities that have to do with enrichment  ...  at least they should not have any nuclear material involved or have any enrichment activities. That is really a red line for the international community.” He added that IAEA inspectors needed more access to possible nuclear sites in Iran. He said:My own patience as head of the agency is running out.” READ MORE

However, it was unclear whether Iran would resume its experiments yesterday and whether they would involve uranium enrichment. Tehran said it was waiting for agreement with the IAEA over agency supervision of the research activities, which it says it is entitled to pursue as a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty.

“IAEA inspectors came to Tehran a couple of days ago and, after holding a few meetings with [Iran’s] Atomic Energy Organisation, preparations to resume research activities are under way and we hope the necessary readiness is found at the IAEA,” said Hossein Entezami, spokesman for the Supreme National Security Council.

The IAEA has been trying to clarify the nature of the research since Iranian officials failed to appear on Thursday for a meeting in Vienna. A senior Iranian official recently told the FT he did not expect the resumed activities to include the assembly of centrifuges, devices used for uranium enrichment. It remained unclear whether Iran intended to introduce feeder fuel into pilot centrifuges in its laboratories.

In Washington, Scott McClellan, White House spokesman, said referral to the Security Council would be “the next step”. But the EU3 have been reluctant to proceed with referral without the support of Russia, which has been carrying out its own talks with Iran over its nuclear programme.

Additional reporting by Hugh Williamson in Berlin and Caroline Daniel in Washington