AP: Iran has resumed small-scale enrichment of uranium, a senior nuclear negotiator said Tuesday, showing the country was determined to proceed with its atomic development despite international moves to restrict it. Associated Press
By ALI AKBAR DAREINI
Associated Press Writer
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) – Iran has resumed small-scale enrichment of uranium, a senior nuclear negotiator said Tuesday, showing the country was determined to proceed with its atomic development despite international moves to restrict it.
The world has long sought to stop Iran from enriching uranium, fearing that the process would bring it to the threshold of possessing nuclear bombs. Russia and France immediately called on Iran to halt its work and fulfill the demands of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, according to a joint statement posted on the Kremlin’s Web site.
On Feb. 4, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported Iran to the U.N. Security Council and simultaneously called on its government to suspend all enrichment-related activities. The Security Council has the power to impose political and economic sanctions on Iran.
In response, the Iranian government suspended certain aspects of its cooperation with the IAEA and steamed ahead with enrichment. The deputy secretary of the Supreme National Council, Javad Vaeidi, told reporters that enrichment of uranium resumed last week at Iran’s main enrichment plant in Natanz.
Asked if Iran had resumed large-scale enrichment, as required for producing fuel for nuclear reactors, Vaeidi replied: “No.”
“We need time to have 60,000 centrifuges,” he said, referring to the devices used in the enrichment process, which can produce fuel for generating electricity or for an atomic bomb.
Diplomats in Vienna, Austria, the site of the U.N. nuclear agency, said Monday that Iran had started small-scale enrichment of uranium.
“According to the presidential order (last week), and to the law passed by the parliament (last year), the order of resumption of uranium enrichment was issued,” Vaeidi told the news conference.
In their joint statement, Russia and Iran recognized Iran’s legitimate right to pursue a peaceful nuclear program for energy. However, they called on Iran to “fully comply with the February resolution and the demands of the board of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency, including on uranium enrichment.”
The statement was adopted during a visit to Moscow by French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin.
The United States had criticized Iran for restarting enrichment on Monday when White House press secretary Scott McClellan said: “They’re continuing to choose defiance and confrontation over cooperation and diplomacy.”
That same day, Iran announced it had postponed indefinitely talks with Moscow on a plan to enrich Tehran’s uranium on Russian territory to allay fears that it would build an atomic weapon.
Moscow had proposed that Iran ship its uranium to Russia, where it would be enriched to a level suitable for nuclear reactors, rather than weapons.
The talks with Russia, which had been slated for Thursday, were postponed because of the “new situation,” Iranian presidential spokesman Gholamhossein Elham said, referring to the IAEA’s reporting Iran to the U.N. Security Council.
However a Russian news agency reported Tuesday that Iran asked Russia for only a four-day delay, until Feb. 20. RIA-Novosti quoted Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin as saying that Tehran had requested the delay for “technical reasons.”
The statement by Russia and France on Tuesday said Russia’s proposal to enrich uranium on its territory for Iran was supported by the international community and offered an opportunity for a resolution of the problem.
Iran maintains its nuclear program is designed solely to generate electricity. But the United States and some U.S. allies, including Israel, claim the program is a cover for producing a nuclear bomb.
China urged that the meetings with Russia take place as planned.
“China expresses its concern over the current development of the Iran nuclear issue,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said at a regular briefing. “China hopes that the talks between Russia and Iran can be held on schedule and achieve positive results.”
Germany expressed disappointment that the Iranian-Russian talks had been postponed because the European powers considered the Russian plan a viable solution. Germany, Britain and France have been negotiating with Iran but have failed to persuade it to abandon enrichment.