Reuters: Iran’s decision to keep preparing raw uranium for enrichment, a step on the way to making nuclear weapons, breaks the spirit though not the letter of its pledge to freeze all such activity, diplomats say. Under a deal Iran reached with three EU nations to freeze all enrichment activity as of November 22, preparing “yellowcake” uranium for enrichment is strictly prohibited. Reuters
By Louis Charbonneau
VIENNA – Iran’s decision to keep preparing raw uranium for enrichment, a step on the way to making nuclear weapons, breaks the spirit though not the letter of its pledge to freeze all such activity, diplomats say.
Under a deal Iran reached with three EU nations to freeze all enrichment activity as of November 22, preparing “yellowcake” uranium for enrichment is strictly prohibited. But the accord allowed Iran to finish some limited uranium conversion work that it had already begun before the suspension took effect.
But Iran will now continue enrichment-related work until February, Western diplomats told Reuters.
Continuing the work that long “would certainly violate the spirit of the agreement,” a Western diplomat said. “Iran has a legal basis for doing it, but it will not inspire much confidence in them,” another diplomat said.
The U.S. State Department said if Iran was committed to suspension it would have sought to end uranium conversion efforts immediately.
“Iran’s actions reinforce our view that further pressure on Iran is required — including the pressure of reporting Iran to the U.N. Security Council — to bring Iran to make a strategic decision to abandon its pursuit of sensitive nuclear fuel-cycle capabilities,” said State Department spokesman Kurtis Cooper.
Iran’s chief delegate to the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency said separately that Iran would press ahead with its nuclear programme.
Western diplomats said this would include work broadly but not explicitly covered by last month’s suspension accord.
“The Iranians have decided to continue UF4 (uranium tetrafluoride) production until the end of February,” one diplomat told Reuters.
UF4 is a precursor to uranium hexafluoride (UF6), the gas that is fed into centrifuges which spin at supersonic speeds to purify it for use as fuel in civilian nuclear power plants or in atomic weapons.
Two other diplomats confirmed the report. One said Iran appeared to be exploiting a loophole in the promise it made to France, Britain and Germany to freeze enrichment activity.
“It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone,” said one Western diplomat. Whenever there is a loophole in an agreement, the Iranians find it and use it to their advantage, he said.
The United States accuses Iran of pursuing nuclear weapons under cover of a civilian atomic energy programme, and has told the EU it believes Tehran has no intention of honouring its pledge to freeze enrichment work.
One Western diplomat close to the IAEA said the deal between the EU’s “big three” and Iran actually permitted Tehran to convert an entire batch of 37 tonnes of yellowcake, with which it had been “testing” its conversion facility at Isfahan.
When Iran announced its plans to test the Isfahan plant in September, nuclear experts said that 37 tonnes of yellowcake could yield enough uranium for up to five nuclear weapons, if it was later enriched to bomb grade purity.
FIRST DEAL FELL APART
Iran first promised to suspend its enrichment programme in exchange for a package of political and economic benefits from the EU big three in October 2003. The deal fell apart after Iran used a loophole in the agreement to continue producing and testing centrifuge components.
Earlier on Tuesday Hossein Mousavian, Iran’s chief delegate to the IAEA, told the official IRNA news agency that it was natural for Iran to continue with its nuclear programme.
“It is natural that the Islamic Republic continues all its nuclear activities. Iran has only suspended the fuel cycle voluntarily, in the framework of its policy to build trust, without any legal obligations,” he said.
Mousavian also said that Washington wanted talks with Tehran, with which it broke ties 24 years ago, to discuss a number of issues including Iran’s nuclear programme.
“The United States wants negotiations with Iran and definitely doesn’t like having a mediator in between, even if the Europeans want to mediate,” IRNA quoted him as saying.
Several Western diplomats said the idea of such talks was premature, but that Washington would have to join the negotiations if the EU3 plan to persuade Iran to abandon its enrichment programme permanently was to work.
But the United States says Tehran cannot be trusted and refuses to participate in the negotiations, diplomats say.