Reuters: Iran is seeking exemptions from a deal to suspend sensitive nuclear activities that could be used to make weapons just three days after it came into force, the head of
the U.N. atomic watchdog said on Thursday. Tehran’s request threatened to torpedo the hard-won agreement with the European Union and further antagonize Washington, just as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) began meeting
to review Iran’s atomic program. Reuters
By Louis Charbonneau and Mark Trevelyan
VIENNA – Iran is seeking exemptions from a deal to suspend sensitive nuclear activities that could be used to make weapons just three days after it came into force, the head of the U.N. atomic watchdog said on Thursday.
Tehran’s request threatened to torpedo the hard-won agreement with the European Union and further antagonize Washington, just as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) began meeting to review Iran’s atomic program.
IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei said Iran had suspended activities related to enriching uranium, except for 20 centrifuge machines on which it wanted to conduct research without using nuclear material.
Centrifuges spin at supersonic speed to enrich, or purify, uranium for use in nuclear reactors. Uranium enriched to a very high degree can be used in a nuclear weapon.
Iran says it wants to use nuclear power solely for peaceful purposes, and denies U.S. accusations that its civilian program is a cover for building a bomb.
Anxious to avoid being referred to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions, Tehran said on Monday it had suspended the “whole enrichment process” in line with an agreement with Germany, France and Britain.
“I’m going to report that we have completed our work with regard to verification of the suspension with one exception, the request by Iran to exempt 20 centrifuges for (research and development) without using nuclear material,” ElBaradei said.
He hoped the dispute would “resolve itself” within 24 hours.
The IAEA has tried not get involved, saying the disagreement was between Iran and the EU. But diplomats on the IAEA’s 35-member board said the dispute was serious.
“This is a big problem,” said a Western diplomat close to the negotiations between the EU and Iran. “It has to do with the definition of a full suspension.”
The diplomat said IAEA inspectors ran into difficulties in Iran on Wednesday when the Iranians refused to let them seal the centrifuges to prevent them being used.
IAEA spokesman Mark Gwozdecky confirmed this, and said that the centrifuges were at the Natanz enrichment plant, a facility which Tehran had kept secret from the U.N. until a group of Iranian exiles revealed its existence in August 2002.
“Iran wants to keep using (the centrifuges) for research and development but this is impossible under the EU deal,” said one diplomat.
“NO NUKE TO THE MULLAHS”
Nearly 100 supporters of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), the exiles who revealed Natanz two years ago, demonstrated in front of the U.N. Vienna center against the EU-Iran deal, shouting in German, English and Farsi: “No deal with the mullahs, no nuke to the mullahs!”
Shahin Gobadi, an NCRI spokesman based in Paris, told reporters that it was necessary for the IAEA board to refer Iran’s case to the Security Council. He also urged the IAEA to visit two sites in Iran where the group says the ministry of defense is enriching uranium for weapons in secret.
Gobadi said the IAEA should go there “before the mullahs have a chance to sanitize the site and remove the evidence.”
Meanwhile Iran accused the EU of backing out of a deal reached weeks ago in Paris and demanded that France, Britain and Germany amend the text of their IAEA draft resolution.
“This the first pitstop for the Europeans to start delivering” on the promises they made to Iran, Sirus Naseri, a member of the Iranian delegation told Reuters.
Iran accuses the Europeans of slipping an indirect “trigger” into the text, under which resumption of enrichment-related activity would spark a Security Council referral. They also object to a demand that Iran give the IAEA “unrestricted access,” instead of limiting access to declared nuclear sites.
Washington does not like the draft text either because it lacks an “automatic trigger” that would automatically refer Iran to the Security Council if it resumed any enrichment-related work.