Thursday, June 08, 2006

Iran Restarted Nuclear Activity

John O'Neil and Nazila Fathi, The New York Post:
Iranian researchers began a new round of nuclear enrichment on the same day that a European proposal for ending the crisis over Iran's nuclear program was presented in Tehran, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported today.

Meanwhile, Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad continued the cautiously approving attitude expressed by officials in Tehran since the package was presented, saying that the "Iranian people are in favor of talks," although he drew the line at a discussion of the country's "nuclear rights."

The report of the new round of nuclear work was included in a update sent by Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, to the agency's 35-member board. The report said that on Tuesday uranium gas had been introduced into the 164-machine cascade the Iranians had used to produce a sample of enriched uranium in April.

The new work, and especially its timing, is likely to be seen as an attempt to send a provocative message, an official for the atomic agency said, since the central requirement of the proposal delivered that day was that Iran suspend all enrichment-related activities.

The move also appeared to run counter to the diplomatic efforts aimed at helping the package along. "There were some subtle messages being delivered to them that it might be more conducive to the talks if you could refrain from introducing nuclear gas," said the agency official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the report has not yet been publicly released.

The official also noted that it was possible that the overlap of the enrichment work and Tuesday's presentation by Javier Solana, the foreign minister of the European Union, was a coincidence, and said others could see it as an Iranian attempt merely to underscore the fact that whether or not the Iranians will consider a suspension eventually, their program is currently up and running.

Before Mr. Solana delivered the proposals, which are backed by the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany, Mr. Ahmadinejad had ridiculed the notion that Iran would be swayed by the sorts of incentives being discussed. In one speech ' he compared the effort to an attempt to fool a child into giving up gold to get some candy.

But while today he warned against "the conspiracies of the enemy," he sounded far more open to the idea of negotiations.

"Iranian people should always engage in talks over international issues and concerns, but never negotiate over what technology they should use in the country, how they should live, or over their economic and political issues" he said. "Negotiation should be in fair circumstances. They cannot make threats and ask for talks at the same time."

The package includes a promise of a light-water nuclear reactor — and the prospect of United States participation in the talks.

But before the talks can begin, the United States, Britain, France, Russia China and Germany have agreed that Iran must suspend all nuclear enrichment-related work. Iranian officials have not commented directly on the call for a suspension — they halted similar work for more than two years during an earlier round of negotiations with Europe — but they have insisted that the talks cannot touch, as Mr. Ahmadinejad said today, their "nuclear rights."

To many in the Iranian government, the fact that the United States has offered to join in even multiparty talks is a victory. Mr. Ahmadinejad today turned around Mr. Bush's statement earlier this week that the proposal means it is up to Iran to choose between cooperation or isolation from the international community.

"It is time for the Western powers to make a choice," Mr. Ahmadinejad said. "They are faced with a historical choice and have two paths in the world: they have to give in to justice or our people will isolate them." READ MORE

In the report to the atomic agency's board, Mr. ElBaradei said that in addition to beginning a new round of enrichment, Iran is continuing its work installing other sets of 164-machine cascades — series of thin metal tubes in which uranium gas is spun at high speed for purification.

Most of the three-page report was devoted to a list of questions on which Iran was said to have offered no new information.

Iran admitted in 2003 that it had conducted clandestine research for years in violation of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and Mr. ElBaradei wrote earlier this year that while there was no evidence that Iran is continuing to secretly work toward weapons, as the United States suspects, he could not rule out that possibility until more information was provided.

In his report today, he noted that Iran promised in April to provide a timetable under which these questions would be addressed within three weeks. "No such timetable has been received," the new report said.

On Tuesday, Iran did provide a logbook kept by a researcher who led a series of plutonium experiments that the agency has been scrutinizing. But other than that, Iran has provided "no new access," according to an official of the atomic agency.

"In the other areas, there's been no new movement," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the report has not yet been formally released to the public.

David Albright, the president of the Institute for Science and International Security, a research group in Washington that tracks the Iranian program, described the new report as low key — perhaps intentionally, he said, given the sensitive timing of the negotiations.

But he said it showed the Iranians were doing little to help Mr. ElBaradei clear up the mysteries surrounding their program. "This shows that the Iranians, except in selected cases, have not been answering the questions raised by the I.A.E.A.," he said.

John O'Neil reported from New York for this article, and Nazila Fathi Tehran.