Iran Speeds Up Nuclear Program as Crisis Talks Bog Down
Ian Traynor, The Guardian:
Iran is racing ahead with preparations to enrich uranium as the big powers struggle to decide on their next moves aimed at resolving the nuclear crisis surrounding the country.
Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, charged with investigating Iran's nuclear programme, say that the Iranians are assembling and making operational dozens of centrifuge machines for enriching uranium at their vast complex in Natanz south of Tehran.
According to diplomats, the Iranians are in the process of achieving a "technological leap" by making operational a cascade of 164 centrifuges to enrich uranium for power plants or warheads. A fortnight ago they were known to have assembled only 34 centrifuges. They are believed to be rushing to assemble dozens more at a time when western negotiations with Tehran have collapsed and big power attempts to develop a coherent policy are deadlocked.
"The Iranians are pushing ahead, marking out their intentions clearly," said a European diplomat. Another added: "It will be almost impossible to get them to give up, to come back down to zero." READ MORE
For the first time in almost three years of dispute, the Iranian issue was passed from the IAEA in Vienna to the UN security council in New York this month. But talks this week among the permanent five security council members are deadlocked, with the Russians balking at what they see as US and European attempts to start a process that will lead to sanctions and possibly military action against Iran.
The five powers - the US, Russia, China, France and Britain - are trying to agree a security council statement ordering Iran to restore a freeze on its uranium enrichment activities within a fortnight. The draft also terms Iran's nuclear programmes "a threat to international peace and security" - language that could later be used to trigger economic sanctions and even military intervention.
"The deadlines outlined in the proposed draft are quite categorical and provide a foundation for sanctions against Iran. We consider it all premature," said the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, yesterday.
The Russians and the Chinese want the dispute handled by the IAEA, but the Americans are determined to keep it with the security council, and want the IAEA chief, Mohamed ElBaradei, to report directly to the council as soon as possible.
The operation of 164 centrifuges would leave Iran able to process only minute volumes of uranium. But experts and diplomats say the real value lies in the know-how acquired in running highly delicate machinery. The Iranians appear determined to configure six rigs of 164 centrifuges at Natanz for what they call a "pilot enrichment plant". They have also told UN inspectors they intend to assemble 3,000 centrifuges by the end of the year.