Thursday, August 31, 2006

UN body says Iran fails to meet nuclear deadline

Mark Heinrich, Reuters:
The U.N. nuclear agency declared Iran had failed to halt nuclear work by a Thursday deadline, and Tehran defied the threat of sanctions by vowing never to abandon a program the West fears could give it atom bombs.

A confidential report of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), leaked to Reuters, said Iran resumed enriching small amounts of uranium in recent days. The agency said its probes had been blocked by lack of Iranian cooperation.

"Iran has not suspended its enrichment related activities," the report said.

"Iran has not addressed the long outstanding verification issues or provided the necessary transparency to remove uncertainties associated with some of its activities," it said. READ MORE

President Bush said on Thursday Iran must face consequences for failing to meet the deadline.

"It is time for Iran to make a choice," Bush told a convention of U.S. veterans. "We've made our choice. We will continue to work closely with our allies to find a diplomatic solution, but there must be consequences for Iran's defiance and we must not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon."

Iran was defiant and shrugged off the threat of sanctions.

"The Iranian nation will never abandon its obvious right to peaceful nuclear technology," Iranian state radio quoted President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as saying, hours before time ran out for Iran to stop enriching uranium.

The U.N. Security Council had asked Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the IAEA, to spell out on August 31 whether Iran had complied with the deadline set in a July 31 resolution.

Iran's disregard of the Council's order to stop enriching uranium exposes it to possible sanctions and was widely expected after it opened a heavy water production plant on August 26 and vowed not to mothball its nuclear program.

Washington says world powers are poised to begin discussing punitive measures against Iran next week.

"(The West) should know the Iranian nation will not yield to pressure and not accept any violation of its rights," Ahmadinejad said in his televised speech.

Iran says it wants atomic energy only for electricity, although it hid sensitive research from U.N. inspectors for almost 20 years and has hindered U.N. investigations since.

Western leaders suspect a disguised weapons project and the U.N. Security Council has ordered it to suspend the work.

"Arrogant powers are against Iran's peaceful nuclear progress. Their pretext and claim is that Iran's peaceful nuclear knowledge might be diverted (into weapons-making) one day. It is a big lie," Ahmadinejad said.

The IAEA report said its inspectors in mid-August found traces of highly-enriched uranium, of potential use for atom bombs, in a container at Iran's Karaj Waste Storage Facility. The IAEA asked Iran to explain the source of the contamination.

"Additional questions about the scope and nature of Iran's nuclear program have arisen during recent inspections," said a senior official close to the IAEA. "However, inspectors have not uncovered any concrete proof that Iran's nuclear program is of a military nature."


In the days before the deadline, Iran launched a heavy-water production plant and pressed ahead with enriching uranium -- albeit in small, insignificant amounts -- at its pilot centrifuge site in Natanz, diplomats said.

But Iran, in an August 22 reply to an offer from six world powers of trade incentives not to enrich, suggested it was open to negotiations on the scope of its program.

European foreign policy chief Javier Solana and Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani agreed by telephone on Thursday to meet soon in hopes of clarifying Iran's response, Solana's spokeswoman said. The exact date and venue were undecided.

Some U.S. allies in the European Union had asked for talks with Tehran to explore its reply instead of resorting quickly to sanctions at the Council, Western diplomats said.

In a possible nod to EU concerns, U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said that even if sanctions discussions began, Iran could still opt to halt enrichment work and spur broader negotiations to implement the package of inducements.

Concerns about Iran's intentions have been fanned by its record of hiding sensitive nuclear work from the IAEA for 18 years, failure to cooperate fully with agency probes and calls for Israel's destruction, Western officials say.

Iran is withholding answers to IAEA questions as bargaining chips for crunch talks with the big powers, diplomats say.

Moscow and Beijing, keen to protect energy contracts with Tehran and seeing no imminent threat from its nuclear program, have urged diplomacy.

EU nations, for their part, prefer to find a compromise with Iran rather than isolate one of their biggest oil suppliers.

One EU diplomat said Iran had a clear interest in seeking a meeting with the EU after August 31 to blur the U.N. deadline, suck the Europeans into talks about talks and push back any consideration of punitive action.

(Additional reporting by Louis Charbonneau in Berlin, Mark John in Brussels, Carol Giacomo and Jo-Anne Allen in Washington, Karolos Grohmann in Athens, Francois Murphy in Paris and Parisa Hafezi and Edmund Blair in Tehran)