AFP: Iran persists in defying UN demands to stop enriching uranium and is expanding the work, the UN nuclear watchdog said in a report Wednesday that could open the door to new sanctions against Tehran. by Michael Adler
VIENNA, May 23, 2007 (AFP) – Iran persists in defying UN demands to stop enriching uranium and is expanding the work, the UN nuclear watchdog said in a report Wednesday that could open the door to new sanctions against Tehran.
“Iran has not suspended its enrichment related activities,” the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said of Iranian compliance with a UN call in March, including the imposition of sanctions, to stop enrichment work, which makes fuel for civilian reactors but also atom bomb material.
Iran has also failed to give the cooperation IAEA inspectors need to “provide assurances about . . . the exclusively peaceful nature” of Iran’s nuclear program, the IAEA said.
The UN Security Council had imposed a first round of sanctions last December over fears Iran seeks nuclear weapons.
The United States warned Iran to end its “defiance” of UN demands to halt sensitive nuclear work and vowed to work with allies on “next steps.”
The IAEA assessment “is a laundry list of Iran’s continued defiance of the international community and shows that Iran’s leaders are only furthering the isolation of the Iranian people,” said White House national security spokesman Gordon Johndroe.
Two US aircraft carriers entered the Gulf on Wednesday in what analyst Mustafa Alani said was “a clear message to Iran that a military option is available to Washington.”
Britain said it would consult its allies on what to do next.
“We believe that full suspension of Iran’s enrichment activities is the only acceptable confidence building measure to allow formal talks to begin,” a Foreign Office spokesman said.
At an underground facility in Natanz, Iran was feeding as of May 13 1,312 centrifuge machines with the uranium gas need to make enriched uranium, said the confidential report by IAEA director Mohamed ElBaradei, a copy of which was obtained by AFP.
Iran could reach its goal of industrial scale production with 3,000 centrifuges running by the end of June, a senior official close to the IAEA said.
“You see from these numbers that the Iranians are starting to feed substantial amounts of uranium and are able to maintain this feed, which shows they are able to enrich uranium,” the official said.
The IAEA report said Iran has “reached enrichment levels up to 4.8 percent U-235,” enough for fuel but far below the 90 percent enrichment needed to make weapons.
The IAEA also reported that its ability to monitor the Iranian nuclear program had “deteriorated” due to a lack of cooperation.
It said crucial unanswered questions included how much work Iran is doing on more sophisticated centrifuges and the nature of documentation of possible bombs-related work.
The official said Iran has blocked off since April 13 access to a heavy-water reactor it is building that could produce plutonium, another potential weapons material.
Iran’s technological ability is increasing while the IAEA’s access to information is decreasing, the official said.
The report comes amidst a dispute pitting the United States against ElBaradei, who advocates letting Iran keep some enrichment work.
The United States insists that Iran suspend all its enrichment activities in order to allay fears of a covert nuclear weapons programme.
US ambassador Gregory Schulte met with ElBaradei Wednesday, only hours before the report was to be released, in what IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said was a “cordial” encounter.
France said it would side with Washington in the dispute.
The IAEA board meets in June to review the report and this is expected to lead to a new UN Security Council meeting on Iran.
Iran insists on its right under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to produce fuel for civilian-use nuclear reactors.
ElBaradei told The New York Times on May 15 that “one of the purposes of suspension (of uranium enrichment) — keeping them from getting the knowledge — has been overtaken by events.”
ElBaradei said: “The focus should be to stop them from going to industrial scale production,” rather than expecting the Iranians to stop all enrichment.