AFP: The United States has complained to the European Union about centrifuge-related work by Iran that could be used to make nuclear weapons and may violate a uranium enrichment freeze Tehran agreed with the EU, diplomats said Thursday. AFP
By Michael Adler
VIENNA – The United States has complained to the European Union about centrifuge-related work by Iran that could be used to make nuclear weapons and may violate a uranium enrichment freeze Tehran agreed with the EU, diplomats said Thursday.
Washington’s top non-proliferation official, Under Secretary of State John Bolton, wrote on January 28 to the foreign ministry political directors of Britain, France and Germany about “maintenance” work on centrifuge piping at an enrichment plant at Natanz in southern Iran, a Western diplomat told AFP.
Bolton also said in his letter that Iran had done work on uranium conversion, the first step in the enrichment process, at a facility in Isfahan without notifying the UN nuclear watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in advance.
Britain, France and Germany struck an agreement with Iran in November to suspend all uranium enrichment-related activities in return for talks on trade, security and technological bonuses for the Islamic Republic.
The talks began in Brussels in December, then moved to Geneva in January and are continuing with a third round in Geneva next week.
The talks are deadlocked as the EU is now calling on Iran to totally dismantle its nuclear fuel program in order to guarantee it does not seek atomic weapons, according to confidential reports obtained by AFP.
Iran insists its nuclear program is a strictly peaceful effort to generate electric power but an Iranian resistance group said in Paris Thursday that Tehran has obtained the materials and expertise to make the triggers for an atomic bomb.
Iran refuses to halt uranium enrichment definitively as it insists that the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty guarantees its right to such activities when they are peaceful.
Iran said Monday its enrichment freeze would be short-lived.
“The length of the suspension will . . . be valid for the duration of the negotiations (with the EU) and only on the condition that the negotiations make progress,” top nuclear negotiator Hassan Rowhani told Hamshahri newspaper in Tehran.
In the enrichment process, uranium ore is converted into a gas and then refined in cascades of rapidly spinning centrifuges into what can be fuel for nuclear power reactors but also the explosive core of atomic bombs.
A Western diplomat said Washington was “concerned that Iran never declared the tunnels (where conversion takes place) at the Isfahan uranium conversion facility to the IAEA before they began construction, as well as concerned about some suspicious activity at Natanz.”
The letter from Bolton had said: “Iran has undertaken construction activities at the uranium conversion facility that under Iran’s Subsidiary Agreement with the IAEA should have been the subject of prior notification to the IAEA,” according to the diplomat.
The maintenance work on the centrifuge piping may have been mundane, the diplomat said, but still could be seen as enrichment-related activity since work on centrifuges is banned by the freeze.
Bolton had asked his EU colleagues in the letter: “We would be interested in your assessment of these activities.”
A European diplomat confirmed the letter and said such interference was not helpful as the Europeans are in the early stages of negotiating with the Iranians.
“The Americans are actively working to torpedo the process,” the European diplomat said.
The diplomat said an eventual military confrontation would be in no one’s interests.
The diplomat said the Europeans needed, in fact, to have the United States join in the talks since trade incentives, such as helping Iran join the World Trade Organization (WTO), were impossible without US backing.
The Western diplomat said the Europeans wanted to be able to give Iran “enough near-term incentives to keep the process, and the suspension, going through the Iranian June (presidential) election.”
The Western diplomat said Washington “had no definite answer” to the Europeans request for help.
The diplomat said the Europeans have not yet answered the letter and might be waiting to discuss the matter when new US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrives in Europe this week on her first visit this week as Washington’s top diplomat.