AP: Top Iranian officials met less than two months ago to weigh whether to restart their country’s uranium enrichment program – a possible pathway to nuclear arms, according to a confidential report cited by diplomats Friday. By GEORGE JAHN
Associated Press Writer
VIENNA, Austria (AP) – Top Iranian officials met less than two months ago to weigh whether to restart their country’s uranium enrichment program – a possible pathway to nuclear arms, according to a confidential report cited by diplomats Friday.
The diplomats, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information, referred to a report being circulated among the 35-board members of the International Atomic Energy Agency citing an Iranian government source on his country’s plans for enrichment.
The four-page report cited the Iranian Foreign Ministry source as saying chief Iranian nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani met with members of the country’s nuclear negotiating team in late October to discuss the timing of resuming the enrichment program, one of the envoys told The Associated Press.
“It wasn’t a particular suggestion that they were ready to do it anytime soon,” the diplomat said. Still, he said the meeting was yet another indication that the Iranians were intent on keeping control of the enrichment process – at least before the prospect was floated several weeks ago of new negotiations with key European powers meant to keep the technology out of their hands.
He said part of the report was apparently based on intelligence from Western countries but declined to elaborate.
Uranium enrichment can be used to generate power but also to make weapons-grade material for nuclear warheads. Iran says it wants only to make fuel, but international concern is growing that the program could be misused.
While Iran has frozen its nascent enrichment program, it restarted uranium conversion – a precursor to enrichment – in August. France, Germany and Britain, negotiating for the European Union, subsequently broke off talks with Tehran meant to ease tensions over its nuclear activities.
A plan floated in recent weeks foresees moving any Iranian enrichment plan to Russia. There, in theory, Moscow would supervise the process to make sure enrichment is only to fuel levels.
Iran insists it wants to master the complete fuel cycle domestically. Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Wednesday in Tehran that, while his country was willing to resume formal talks with key European powers on its nuclear program, “naturally we aim to have enrichment on Iran’s territory.”
Outside a board meeting in Vienna on Thursday, however, a senior Iranian diplomat appeared to soften his country’s stance.
“We are considering it,” Mohammed Mehdi Akhounzadeh Basti, the chief Iranian delegate to the IAEA, told The AP when asked about the plan to move Iran’s enrichment program to Russia. Fellow-delegate member Javad Vaidi said “we are prepared to follow the path of dialogue with other countries, including the EU-3” – France, Germany and Britain, the key EU negotiators.
The conference ended Friday with board members agreeing to use the agency’s share of money from winning the Nobel Peace Prize earlier this year to fund needs of developing countries in the peaceful use of nuclear energy. The money – about $620,000 – will be used “specifically in the human health and food production sectors,” said a document adopted by the meeting. IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei, the co-winner along with his agency, plans to set up a fund to support orphanages, primarily in Egypt.
On Thursday, the European Union accused Iran of having documents that show how to produce parts of nuclear warheads. Britain on Friday suggested that the five main nuclear weapons countries be given a chance to examine the documents, now in the agency’s possession – a proposal that IAEA officials said was opposed by many non-nuclear board members. No decision was made.