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Atom Agency May Be Asked to Meet on Iran Situation

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New York Times: Leading European nations may call an emergency meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency next week to act against Iran if it resumes some nuclear activities it has suspended, European diplomats said Wednesday.
New York Times

By STEVEN R. WEISMAN

WASHINGTON – Leading European nations may call an emergency meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency next week to act against Iran if it resumes some nuclear activities it has suspended, European diplomats said Wednesday.

The diplomats said that most recent signs indicated that Iran would probably act soon on its declaration last week that it would revive the processing of uranium for nuclear reactors, a step that Britain, France, Germany and the European Union say would violate a pledge that Iran made last year.

“There is a lot of pessimism at the moment,” said a European diplomat, referring to the growing sense that Iran would effectively walk away from talks on its suspected nuclear arms program.

But European and American officials said there was no consensus yet on exactly what to do if Iran started to carry out its threat, converting uranium tetrafluoride to uranium hexafluoride.

The step is a normal part of the process of enriching uranium for use as fuel for nuclear power reactors, but since the West has seized on several pieces of evidence and concluded that Iran has ambitions to become a nuclear arms power, there is a consensus that it wants to proceed to the high level of enrichment necessary to produce weapons-grade material.

Iran confirmed earlier in the week that it had converted 37 tons of uranium ore concentrate into uranium tetrafluoride, and Western experts say it may take only a few weeks to convert that material into uranium hexafluoride, which can then be fed into centrifuges for enrichment.

European diplomats, asking not to be identified because of the sensitive nature of their negotiations with Iran, said the International Atomic Energy Agency might need to act quickly if Iran resumed the conversion, to cut off a process that could be carried out quickly.

A further fear, they said, would be that Iran might proceed with the conversion and then suspend its activities once again, before the international agency acted, effectively going one step further down the road before action could be taken against it.

As a result, some thought is being given to whether an emergency session of the atomic energy agency should be sought for next week, giving Iran a warning to rescind its action or face an immediate referral of the issue to the United Nations Security Council, where sanctions could be considered.

“If we adopt a policy of stop and go, it could bring Iran nearer to what we don’t want each time,” said a European diplomat. “We don’t want to slow down this process. We want to stop it.”

The European discussions are being carried out in consultation with top American officials, but American officials say they are letting the Europeans decide how to proceed.

Whether to call for an immediate session of the atomic energy agency “is for the Europeans, first and foremost, to determine,” Richard A. Boucher, the State Department spokesman, said Wednesday. “It’s their negotiation.”

A senior State Department official, amplifying that comment but asking not to be quoted by name as discussing Europe’s intentions, said there was a feeling in the administration “that the Europeans will do the right thing” if Iran walks away from the talks.

European diplomats said that after getting considerable leeway from Washington to discuss economic incentives with Iran as an inducement to ending its nuclear activities, it was inconceivable that the Europeans would not follow through with their promise to take the issue to the United Nations if the talks failed.

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