Monday, February 06, 2006

Nuclear Inspectors in Iran 'Soon'

CNN News:
Iran said on Monday inspectors from the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog will visit in the next few days to oversee the resumption of uranium enrichment -- a process that can be used to make bomb-grade material. READ MORE

Iran decided to go ahead with enrichment, which it had suspended for over two years, after the board of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) voted on Saturday to report it to the U.N. Security Council.

EU officials have warned that Iran's enrichment plans and curtailment of U.N. nuclear inspections in retaliation for the IAEA vote will exacerbate its nuclear case, making the prospect of U.N. sanctions against Tehran more likely. "In a letter to the agency (IAEA) we announced the date (for resuming enrichment) and the inspectors will come to Iran for it in the next few days," Ali Larijani, secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, told reporters.

He did not specify a date for starting enrichment.

Iran says it only wants to enrich uranium to a low grade for use in nuclear power reactors, not to the high grade needed for atomic weapons, which it denies seeking.

EU, Chinese and Russian officials have urged Iran to use the month before the next IAEA board meeting on March 6 to answer the agency's outstanding concerns about its nuclear ambitions and return to the negotiating table.

"We tell them: There is still time to negotiate. But suspend sensitive nuclear activities," French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy told France Inter radio.

Calls for diplomacy

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said during a visit to Athens that cooperation with Iran must continue and that Tehran must not be threatened over the nuclear dispute.

"The use of violence can only be proposed within the framework of U.N. rules," he told reporters via interpreters.

In Oslo, China's Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing said diplomatic channels should still be used and urged Iran and the European Union to resume talks abandoned last month.

"Time is already pressing and it's important to seize every minute and every day to address this sensitive issue," he said after talks with his Norwegian counterpart.

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad once again struck a defiant tone in a speech on Monday. "They (Western countries) are very angry with us, but it's not important to us because they cannot do anything and we are not scared of anything," the semi-official Mehr news agency quoted him as saying.

"If they could do something against us, they would not have wasted time to prepare the stage," he added.

Mounting tension over Iran's nuclear case sent oil prices more than 70 cents higher on Monday and saw the Tehran Stock Exchange's main index fall a further 0.4 percent after dropping below the psychological 10,000-point threshold on Sunday.

Fitch Ratings (UK) Limited cut its credit rating outlook for Iran to negative from stable, citing growing political risk surrounding the dispute over its atomic program.

Government spokesman Gholamhossein Elham stressed that Iran had no intention of following North Korea's example of withdrawing from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Larijani said Tehran was still open to talks with the EU. "The door for negotiations is not closed ... but they should know that this demand (to have nuclear technology) is not something that one can step away from," he said.

The EU says Iran must reinstate a moratorium on sensitive nuclear work that it broke on January 9 if it wants more talks.