The Guardian: The Iranian government threatened to provoke a full-blown international crisis yesterday by confirming that it is to resume its suspended nuclear programme. A British Foreign Office spokesman said such a move would automatically halt two years of negotiations between Tehran and the European trio – Britain, France and Germany – and see immediate referral to the United Nations security council. The Guardian
Ewen MacAskill and Robert Tait in Tehran
The Iranian government threatened to provoke a full-blown international crisis yesterday by confirming that it is to resume its suspended nuclear programme.
A British Foreign Office spokesman said such a move would automatically halt two years of negotiations between Tehran and the European trio – Britain, France and Germany – and see immediate referral to the United Nations security council. Sanctions could follow and bring a dangerous standoff between the US, backed by Israel, and Iran.
The US, in a view shared by Europe and Israel, suspects Iran is covertly trying to secure a nuclear weapon. Iran claims it only wants nuclear power for civil purposes.
Mohammad Saeedi, deputy head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation, said yesterday: “The decision to resume some activities has been taken and now we are discussing the timing for resuming. But this decision is imminent as well.” Twenty-four hours earlier, he said a decision would be made “within days”.
While still expressing hope that this was brinkmanship, a western diplomat said he feared that this time the Iranians were not bluffing. Another western diplomat, based in Tehran, said Iran was in danger of miscalculating international resolve.
Talks in London between Iranian officials and their European counterparts broke up last month without progress. A western diplomat close to the London negotiations said they had been “far from wonderful”.
Mr Saeedi, who attended the London negotiations, replied in the affirmative yesterday when asked if Iran would break seals placed by the International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA), the UN watchdog, at the uranium conversion facility in Isfahan.
The facility converts uranium into a gas which can then be used for uranium enrichment, a necessary requirement for a bomb.
The Iranian government is working on an assumption that conversion of uranium to gas does not amount to enrichment and, therefore, will not be in breach of its Paris agreement with the Europeans in the autumn.
But a Foreign Office spokesman said yesterday: “We have said that if the Iranians do resume activity on their uranium conversion facility at Isfahan, that would breach the Paris agreement.
“Our position has been absolutely clear from the beginning that we would have no other option but to refer it to the security council.”
When Washington expressed suspicion two years ago that Iran may have covertly engaged in a nuclear weapons programme, the US and Israel urged instant referral to the security council and was sceptical when the Europeans opted for negotiation.
George Bush softened his position in February, signalling support for talks, though warning that if these failed, the matter would have to go to the security council.
Mr Bush’s power to tackle nuclear proliferation is also being challenged by North Korea, where an official was reported by the Wall Street Journal yesterday to have hinted that the country could test an atomic bomb shortly.
The western diplomat in Tehran said that if Iran does resume the conversion process, Iran could be hauled “very swiftly” before the security council. “It’s important from our point of view that they know what the results of implementing the threats in this instance would be.”
The next stage would be for Iran to notify formally the IAEA that it intended to resume the conversion process.
The renewed tension comes after a period of increasingly hostile anti-western rhetoric from senior Iranian figures. Last week, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said Iran’s nuclear programme was not the business of the western powers.
At the same time, in a move intended to placate western opinion, officials said they were preparing to bring a bill before the Majlis, the Iranian parliament, to ratify an additional protocol to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. The protocol would allow stiffer international monitoring of Iran’s nuclear activities.