AFP: Iran slammed UN efforts to rein in its nuclear programme Wednesday but both the United States and Europe called for tough action at a UN atomic watchdog meeting that brought new sanctions closer.
by Michael Adler
VIENNA, June 13, 2007 (AFP) – Iran slammed UN efforts to rein in its nuclear programme Wednesday but both the United States and Europe called for tough action at a UN atomic watchdog meeting that brought new sanctions closer.
International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei told the IAEA’s 35-nation board of governors that Iran is still expanding uranium enrichment work, in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions.
Diplomats told AFP that ElBaradei believes Iran could have 8,000 centrifuges enriching uranium by December, a significant rise in capability likely to fuel fears that Tehran seeks nuclear weapons.
German ambassador Peter Gottwald, speaking for the European Union, said that continued Iranian defiance of UN calls for it to stop enriching uranium and to cooperate fully with IAEA inspectors would lead to “further appropriate measures” at the Security Council.
“The European Union reaffirms its support to the UN Security Council process” which will lead to further sanctions “should Iran further fail to comply,” Gottwald said.
But “the door to negotiations remains open” if Iran complies with UN Security Council resolutions, Gottwald said.
The Council has imposed two rounds of sanctions in a bid to get Iran to halt uranium enrichment — which can make fuel for reactors or for a bomb — and cooperate with an over four-year-old IAEA investigation.
The United States expects intense diplomacy in coming weeks for new sanctions, the US State Department said Monday.
US ambassador Gregory Schulte said in Vienna that Iran had breached its “safeguards agreement” with the IAEA by suspending an accord with the agency to provide early notification of plans to build new plants and by denying inspections at a heavy-water, plutonium-producing reactor being built.
But Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told cheering crowds in his home province on Wednesday that nuclear energy “belongs to the Iranian nation and the Iranian nation will defend this right with their fists in the air”.
He said about UN moves, “the Iranian nation does not consider your resolutions to be worth a nickel coin.”
Iran’s IAEA ambassador Ali Asghar Soltanieh told the board that the agency was not mandated to play the role of UN watchdog “as mistakenly publicised these days,” but rather to promote the peaceful use of nuclear energy.
Soltanieh rejected the work of an IAEA committee set up to find ways of improving the agency’s monitoring of national nuclear programmes.
Schulte told AFP the committee’s recommendations, made Wednesday after two years of work, would be passed on to the IAEA secretariat despite Iran’s vetoing any consensus.
Schulte said Iran was in violation of IAEA safeguards and clearly had “no interest” in strengthening them.
A diplomat close to the IAEA said ElBaradei has been telling political leaders in private that Iran was making “steady progress” in uranium enrichment and shows no sign of slowing down.
ElBaradei said on Monday’s opening day of the meeting that there was a “brewing confrontation” with Iran over its atomic ambitions and that it must be settled diplomatically.
Tehran denies US accusations that it seeks nuclear weapons, saying it wants only to generate electricity.
Washington says it is looking for a diplomatic solution but has not ruled out military action.
Iran had, as of May 13, over 1,300 centrifuges enriching uranium at the underground, heavily bunkered facility in Natanz, according to ElBaradei.
It could start industrial scale production with 3,000 centrifuges running by the end of June, a senior official close to the IAEA said.
That number could make enough enriched uranium for a bomb in less than a year, experts say.