Sunday, January 08, 2006

Iran ready to remove UN seals at nuclear sites

Parisa Hafezi, Reuters:
Iran said it was ready to remove U.N. seals at some atomic research and development sites on Monday, a move that would raise the stakes in Tehran's dispute with the West over its nuclear program. READ MORE

European Union and U.S. officials say that, if Iran goes ahead with the move, diplomatic efforts to settle the issue would be endangered and that could lead to Tehran being referred to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Mohamed ElBaradei told Sky Television in an interview to be broadcast on Monday the world was "running out of patience with Iran".

Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik, whose country holds the EU presidency, said Iran's decision was "the wrong step in the wrong direction and is a cause of very serious concern".

Iran insists its nuclear ambitions are entirely peaceful and says it has the right to enrich uranium on its own soil.

The EU and the United States back a plan put forward by Moscow for Iran to enrich uranium in Russia, which would ensure the uranium was only enriched to levels where it could be used to generate electricity and not to make nuclear bombs.

"We will remove the seals and we have announced that we are ready to start research from tomorrow," Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told a news conference on Sunday.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was due on Monday to hold his first major news conference since taking office in August.


A staunch conservative, Ahmadinejad has resolutely refused to renounce Iran's right to uranium enrichment and has stirred up more mistrust in the West by dismissing the Holocaust as "a myth" and calling Israel a "tumor" to be "wiped off the earth".

Asefi said Iran would restart work when the IAEA, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, was ready to supervise the removal of seals it put in place two years ago to freeze activities while talks went ahead.

The IAEA said two letters sent by Iran to explain its move still left key questions unresolved and the Vienna-based agency said it had asked for more information. If Iran complies with the IAEA requests, the restart of nuclear work could be delayed.

Iran has not publicly disclosed what activities it plans to resume on Monday. Diplomats and analysts say atomic research and development (R&D) could involve some laboratory tests of uranium enrichment and assembly of centrifuge enrichment machines.

That would mean all of Iran's nuclear program was active once again, apart from uranium enrichment at an unfinished plant at Natanz.

Diplomats close to the IAEA said that if Iran went ahead and restarted nuclear R&D it would prompt a report to the IAEA's 35-nation board of governors which would then decide whether to call an emergency full meeting of all agency member countries.

That meeting could decide whether to refer Iran to the U.N. Security Council which could impose sanctions.

Analysts say Iran is confident it would survive any sanctions vote and sees itself in a strong position because of the high price of oil and instability in neighboring Iraq.