Reuters: The governors of the U.N. nuclear watchdog will hold an emergency meeting on Tuesday after Iran resumed work at a uranium conversion plant, fanning Western fears it may be seeking nuclear weapons. Reuters
By Louis Charbonneau and Francois Murphy
VIENNA – The governors of the U.N. nuclear watchdog will hold an emergency meeting on Tuesday after Iran resumed work at a uranium conversion plant, fanning Western fears it may be seeking nuclear weapons.
The International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed Iran had restarted some nuclear activities mothballed under a deal with the European Union’s three biggest powers.
Tehran defied EU warnings it could now be referred to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions for having kept its work secret for years, breaching the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) that aims to thwart the spread of nuclear arms.
The West could call for sanctions on the grounds that Iran illegally hid its uranium enrichment program, including a massive underground enrichment plant at Natanz, the existence of which was revealed by exiled dissidents in 2002.
“If Iran doesn’t resume the full suspension of all nuclear fuel activities, it will face the U.N. Security Council,” an EU diplomat told Reuters.
“This meeting probably won’t call for a referral to the council. Iran will be warned, and if it doesn’t comply, then we will meet again and decide on the Security Council,” he said.
The IAEA board meeting was originally scheduled for 0830 GMT but was pushed back to 1300 to allow time for EU diplomats to try to persuade key members of the agency’s 35-nation board to unanimously issue a stern warning to Iran.
IRAN CRISIS WEIGHS ON OIL MARKET
Oil hovered near a record $64 a barrel as traders worried the nuclear stand-off with Iran and possible militant strikes in Saudi Arabia could disrupt crucial Middle East exports.
France, Britain and Germany, the “EU3,” hope to persuade all the developing countries on the IAEA’s 35-member board meeting to back an IAEA resolution urging Iran to resume the suspension of all its uranium conversion activities.
For two years, the EU3 has been trying to persuade Iran to abandon nuclear technology that could be used to make bombs in exchange for political and economic incentives, but Iran formally rejected the package.
Iran insists its nuclear program is for the peaceful generation of electricity.
While the Western countries on the IAEA board generally agree that the agency’s governors should demand that Tehran immediately renounce its plans to restart its uranium processing and enrichment program, developing countries dislike the idea.
“They (developing states) see no legal grounds for referring Iran to the Security Council because they say Iran is only ending a voluntary suspension,” an EU diplomat said.
Non-aligned developing states make up around a third of the board. While they would be unable to block an EU-sponsored IAEA resolution, the board prefers to make decisions by consensus and the non-aligned states could block a consensus decision.
Some of the developing countries, including South Africa and Argentina, fear the attempt to force Iran to give up sensitive nuclear activities could one day be used against their own nuclear programs and could therefore object to it.
IRAN WARNS U.S. AND ISRAEL
In comments clearly aimed at the United States and Israel, Tehran said that it would it drop all international nuclear commitments if its atomic facilities were attacked.
“The day our facilities are attacked, we will put aside all our nuclear commitments,” outgoing Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani said in Tehran.
In 1981, Israel destroyed an Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osiraq. Like Washington, the Jewish state has hinted that military force was an option in dealing with the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran.
Iran froze nuclear fuel work in November while it explored a long-term arrangement with the EU.
Iran says the EU proposal, which included offers of help to develop civilian nuclear energy and in becoming a major transit route for Central Asian oil, is unacceptable as it denies Iran the right to produce its own nuclear fuel.
Around 70 Iranian exiles from the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), listed by the State Department as a terrorist organization, demonstrated against the Islamic government outside the IAEA headquarters in Vienna.
“No nukes to the Mullahs,” they chanted.
On Monday, the NCRI, which first revealed Natanz and several other hidden sites in Iran, accused Iran of secretly assembling thousands of enrichment centrifuges which it plans to deploy at covert sites around the country to develop atom bomb fuel.
Iran’s conservative media praised Tehran’s decision to resume uranium conversion, with many looking forward to the day when Tehran resumes all nuclear activities. “Iran’s nuclear heart starts ticking,” said the front-page headline of Hemayat daily.
“Next step, Natanz,” said the ultra-conservative Jomhuri-ye Eslami, in reference to Iran’s uranium enrichment plant.
(Additional reporting by Tehran, Paris, Berlin, Washington, London bureaux)