Reuters: Iran again threatened on Wednesday to start full-scale uranium enrichment if reported to the U.N. Security Council, while signalling interest in a Russian proposal aimed at calming its nuclear row with the West. By Parisa Hafezi
TEHRAN (Reuters) – Iran again threatened on Wednesday to start full-scale uranium enrichment if reported to the U.N. Security Council, while signalling interest in a Russian proposal aimed at calming its nuclear row with the West.
The council’s five veto-wielding permanent members plus Germany plan to meet in London on Monday to try to resolve differences over whether to send Iran to the council at a crisis meeting of the U.N. nuclear watchdog on Feb. 2, diplomats said.
They said foreign ministers of Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States and Germany would seek a consensus before the 35-nation board of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) gathers in Vienna to weigh what to do about Iran.
The United States and its European Union allies say it is time for the IAEA to turn Iran’s nuclear dossier over to the Security Council. China and Russia have urged caution.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said his country would immediately halt voluntary dealings with the IAEA, which include snap checks on its atomic sites, if sent to the council.
He said he doubted the IAEA or European Union negotiators wanted to move towards “an uncontrollable situation”.
Iran, going beyond its Non-Proliferation Treaty obligations, allows snap inspections by the U.N. nuclear watchdog.
Mottaki urged Britain, France and Germany to renew talks they halted when Iran said on Jan. 9 it was resuming atomic fuel research and removed U.N. seals on uranium enrichment equipment.
Iran’s top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani said after talks in Moscow he was positive about the idea of setting up a joint venture with Russia to purify uranium on Russian soil.
He said the plan could be “perfected” during talks in Moscow scheduled for Feb. 16 — two weeks after the IAEA board meeting.
The proposal is designed to prevent Iran gaining technology that could be used for military purposes. The Iranians have said they are ready to discuss co-production of atomic fuel, but that they retain the right to enrich uranium at home.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw reiterated that the Russian proposal was welcome if it enabled Iran to receive nuclear fuel that was processed safely outside its borders.
“That may provide a solution,” he told a news conference in Cyprus. “But what the world is also looking for is for Iran to stop the beginnings of running its centrifuges. That’s essential if it is to avoid reference to the Security Council.”
Larijani, who begins a visit to China on Thursday, warned that referral would prompt Iran to begin large-scale enrichment.
“In those conditions, our activities will not be limited to scientific research. Then we will start industrial production.”
Iran has a pilot enrichment plant at Natanz, but is not known to have enough centrifuges for large-scale production.
Mottaki said there was no way Iran would suspend its atomic fuel research programme — a step the EU trio has made a condition for any renewal of talks that began in 2003.
Russia and China are reluctant to see Iran hauled before the Security Council, which has the power to impose sanctions, and do not back a draft EU resolution asking the IAEA for referral.
An EU diplomat said Moscow wanted the IAEA only to “inform” the council about Iran, which would allow the top world body to debate the issue, but nothing more. He said China had told the EU it had its own proposal, but had not submitted it in writing.
The West suspects a secret nuclear arms programme is under way in Iran, which hid atomic research work from the IAEA for almost 20 years until it was exposed by Iranian exiles in 2002.
Iran says it only wants nuclear power for civilian use.
IAEA safeguards investigators led by deputy agency director general Olli Heinonen flew to Tehran on Tuesday to try to get Iran to reveal more about its past nuclear activities.
Diplomats close to the IAEA said Heinonen’s team would press for access to the Lavisan military site that was razed before inspectors could reach it to test for radiation.
The inspectors also want details of Iran’s nuclear black market activity and of a document Iran gave the IAEA that diplomats said described how to make the core of an atomic bomb.
(Additional reporting by Mark Heinrich in Vienna, Oliver Bullough in Moscow and Madeline Chambers in London)