AFP: Iran’s promised suspension of uranium enrichment is not yet complete as it still wants to use 20 centrifuge devices for research, UN atomic agency chief Mohamed ElBardadei said, reporting a deadlock Thursday as his agency met on Tehran’s nuclear program. AFP
by Michael Adler
VIENNA – Iran’s promised suspension of uranium enrichment is not yet complete as it still wants to use 20 centrifuge devices for research, UN atomic agency chief Mohamed ElBardadei said, reporting a deadlock Thursday as his agency met on Tehran’s nuclear program.
“We have completed our work with regard to verification of the suspension with regard to one exception and that’s the request by Iran to exempt 20 centrifuges for R and D (research and development) without using nuclear materials,” International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) director general ElBaradei told reporters.
“This is an issue which we are still discussing with Iranian authorities and I hope I’ll be able to update the (IAEA) board on this issue in the next hours or day,” ElBaradei said.
Iran’s request goes against promises it has made to suspend all uranium enrichment activities, European diplomats said.
A Western diplomat said it would be “outrageous” if Iran at the last minute exempted some centrifuges out of the some 1,000 it is believed to have, even if this is only for research purposes.
“It is not acceptable to us,” a European diplomat said.
Iran was also taking a hardline stance against a draft UN resolution by Britain, France and Germany in moves which stymied progress at a crucial IAEA meeting on allaying international concern over Iran’s nuclear program, which the United States claims is devoted to secretly developing atomic weapons.
Iran’s demand to be allowed to use the centrifuges has been rejected by the European Union which earlier this month negotiated a total uranium enrichment freeze in order to help Tehran avoid possible UN sanctions.
Enriched uranium, made by spinning uranium gas in what can be cascades of thousands of centrifuges, can serve both as fuel for nuclear reactors or as the raw explosive material for atomic bombs.
The IAEA will decide at the board of governors meeting whether to bring Iran before the UN Security Council, which could impose punishing economic sanctions as Washington seeks.
Meanwhile, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami criticised the IAEA draft resolution from the European trio.
“The resolution presented by the European countries is not a good resolution,” Khatami told reporters in Tehran.
“Intense negotiations are currently underway between non-aligned states and the Europeans to change the draft,” he added.
Iranian officials have complained that in the draft resolution, the Europeans were trying to legally oblige Iran to maintain an “unlimited suspension”, whereas Iran had only agreed to freeze its enrichment activities for the duration of a fresh round of talks with the EU aimed at reaching a long-term solution to the nuclear stand-off.
An Iranian official said in Vienna that the board meeting was “the first occasion when we see how the Europeans deliver on their promises,” which he said included the resolution not linking Iranian compliance to it possibly being taken to the Security Council.
Asked if Iran would honor a full suspension if it got a resolution it accepted, the official said only: “We want to see what happens in the resolution.”
Iran had continued to produce the uranium gas that is the feedstuff for enriching uranium only days before Monday’s ban, a move one European diplomat characterized as “not very helpful” as it led to doubts about Iran’s intentions and the future of the suspension deal.
ElBaradei told the board Iran had produced “3.5 tonnes of UF6 gas … and a number of new centrifuge rotors have been assembled,” according to a copy of his speech.
Gary Samore, a non-proliferation expert from London’s International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), told AFP by telephone that the Iranians apparently want to “clear the technical hurdle of running centrifuges together in a cascade,” the crucial step in enriching uranium.
He said this explains why they want to do research work with a small amount of centrifuges “but what surprises me is that they think they can get away with it.”
“The Europeans are in no mood to yield,” said Samore, since they feel they have been cheated after Iran failed to honor an October 2003 agreement to suspend uranium enrichment activities.
Iran maintains its nuclear program is strictly peaceful.
Some 200 Iranian resistance demonstrators outside IAEA headquarters called for Iran to be taken to the Security Council and not have “more time to pursue its nuclear weapons program,” protest organizer Shahin Gobadi said.