Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Iran to halt spot atomic checks if reported to U.N.

Paul Hughes, Reuters:
Iran threatened on Tuesday to halt snap U.N. inspections of its nuclear sites and resume uranium enrichment if it was reported to the U.N. Security Council as agreed by the council's five permanent members.

In an angry response to the move by Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, Iran also warned it would hit back in the region if put under severe international pressure.

"In case of any referral or report to the council, we are obliged to lift all the suspensions and stop implementation of the Additional Protocol based on a law passed by parliament," Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani was quoted as saying by the semi-official Mehr news agency. READ MORE

The Additional Protocol of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, signed but not ratified by Iran, gives U.N. inspectors greater powers of access to suspected sites.

Iran, which says its nuclear programme is purely peaceful, said this month it was resuming nuclear research which had been suspended for 2-1/2 years.

It removed U.N. seals on uranium enrichment equipment at its Natanz plant in central Iran on January 9, but diplomats said there was no sign it had actually begun enrichment there.

"If these countries use all their means ... to put pressure on Iran, Iran will use its capacity in the region," the semi-official ISNA news agency quoted Larijani as saying.

It was not clear what regional capacities he meant. Analysts and diplomats say Iran, with its links to Islamist parties and militants, has the means to create trouble for the West in Iraq, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories and elsewhere.


Iran was responding to an agreement reached at late-night talks in London among the Security Council's big five, plus Germany and the European Union, who decided that the U.N. nuclear watchdog should report to the council this week on what Tehran must do to cooperate with the agency.

"We consider any referral or report of Iran to the Security Council as the end of diplomacy," Larijani, who is secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, told state television.

Prime Minister Tony Blair hailed the agreement to involve the council as a powerful signal to Iran.

"I hope it's sending a message that the international community is united," Blair told Reuters Television.

However, with Russia and China opposed to hasty action, the agreement delayed any decision on formal referral of Iran to the council, where it could face sanctions, until after a scheduled International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) meeting on March 6.

"A compromise was reached between the participants," a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman said.

In a joint statement after their talks in London, the foreign ministers said they had agreed that an emergency meeting of the IAEA board on Thursday "should report to the Security Council its decision on the steps required of Iran".

Libyan Energy Minister Fathi Omar Bin Shatwan said referral of Iran's case to the council would have a serious effect on world oil prices, already just shy of record highs.

But Iran's Oil Minister Kazem Vaziri eased concerns that the world's fourth biggest crude oil producer could curb oil exports in reprisal, as Tehran has previously hinted it may do.

"We are not mixing oil with politics," he told reporters at the start of an OPEC meeting in Vienna.

Iran's Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki met his Chinese counterpart in London and called for Thursday's IAEA meeting to be cancelled, Iran's official IRNA news agency reported.


Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russian and Chinese diplomats would fly to Tehran shortly to urge Iran to answer outstanding IAEA concerns, Russian media reported.

Lavrov stressed that although diplomatic pressure on Iran was increasing, the latest decision did not sideline the IAEA in favour of the Security Council.

"We could not support that approach, because the IAEA is continuing its professional work in Iran ... and intends to achieve additional results," Lavrov added.

Iran can count on support at the IAEA meeting from Venezuela and Syria and an abstention from India but the compromise agreed in London is likely to get a comfortable majority in any vote.

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said an extensive period of "confidence-building" was required from Iran.

A senior British official, who asked not to be named, said Iranian compliance with IAEA demands could defuse the crisis.

"If the Iranians blink there will be no need for any action in New York. That is our preferred option -- that Iran heeds the unified message and stops what it is doing," he said.

But Javad Vaeedi, deputy head of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, said Iran had no intention of backing down.

"Research and development is the Iranian nation's legitimate right and is irreversible," he told state television.

(Additional reporting by Parisa Hafei and Parinoosh Arami in Tehran, Madeline Chambers in London, Oliver Bullough in Moscow and OPEC team in Vienna)