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Watchdog says Iran defies UN
[April 28, 2006]

Watchdog says Iran defies UN

(Kuwait Times Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge)VIENNA: Iran has defied a UN deadline to halt uranium enrichment, the UN nuclear agency said in a report yesterday that led to calls for tough Security Council action over Tehran's atomic program. US President George W Bush said Iran's nuclear ambitions were "dangerous" but that Washington, which fears Tehran is trying to develop atomic weapons, wanted to resolve the dispute "diplomatically and peacefully". Iran reacted sharply, hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad insisting it was being denied its right to atomic energy and issuing a veiled threat to cut off ties with the watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). He said Iran did "not give a damn" about demands to freeze sensitive nuclear work, adding that the world would enjoy peace if it were not for US bullying. IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei's report came as a 30-day UN Security Council deadline expired for Tehran to comply with UN demands to halt enrichment, which makes the fuel for civilian nuclear reactors but what can also be the explosive core of atom bombs. The report said the IAEA had taken samples on April 13 at Iran's enrichment facility in Natanz "which tend to confirm as of that date the enrichment level (of 3.6 percent) declared by Iran." It said that during March, Iran completed a 164-machine cascade, referring to centrifuges arranged in series in order to enrich uranium, and that another two similar cascades were under construction at Natanz.

Asked if Iran was still carrying out enrichment, a senior official close to the IAEA said the Iranians "are able to get cascades running and get enrichment out," even if some centrifuges had broken down as Iran masters the complicated technology. Meanwhile Iran has since September converted approximately 110 tons of the uranium hexafluoride gas that is the feedstock for enriching uranium, which if all was enriched would be enough for over 10 atom bombs, experts said. "The report demonstrates the continued defiance of Iran's leaders and their current confrontational approach," US ambassador to the IAEA Gregory Schulte said, warning that the programme was clearly accelerating.

Iran says its programme is part of a peaceful civilian nuclear energy drive but British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said London would ask the Security Council "to increase the pressure on Iran so that the international community can be assured its nuclear programme is not a threat to peace and security." ElBaradei's report clears the way for a new phase of diplomacy, with the United States and Europe ready to seek a Security Council resolution legally obliging Iran to meet IAEA and Security Council demands. "We believe the next step is a Chapter 7 resolution making mandatory the existing IAEA resolutions," US Ambassador John Bolton said, making it clear this would not be a sanctions resolution. "That really puts the ball back in Iran's court, and it's up to them whether they will honor their obligations," Bolton said.

If Iran still refuses, such a resolution could lead to punishing economic sanctions and even military action, although Tehran's allies and major trading partners Russia and China oppose any such move. Iran has rejected suspending enrichment, Ahmadinejad vowing yesterday, quoted by the official IRNA agency, that "if these regulations that guarantee our rights are used against us, we will totally change our way of dealing with the organisations." ElBaradei's report said Iran had offered a timetable for cooperation with nuclear inspectors within the next three weeks if the IAEA, rather than the Security Council, oversaw its compliance. Diplomats described this as a veiled threat that Iran could pull out of the nuclear non-proliferation regime if its atomic ambitions are challenged. ElBaradei's report also said there had been little progress since a previous assessment and "gaps remain in the agency's knowledge with respect to the scope and content of Iran's centrifuge programme." The report said: "Because of this and other gaps in the agency's knowledge including the role of the military in Iran's nuclear program, the agency is unable to make progress in its efforts to provide assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran." Iran has failed to come forth with information on work with high-tech P2 centrifuges, on possible military research to put nuclear warheads on missiles, and on handing over a 15-page document for making uranium metal into hemispheres that could only be for bombs, the report said. It also said the IAEA was unable to rule out that Iran may have received plutonium, which is an atomic weapons material, from abroad.

Iran said the IAEA report was not damning. "The report does not contain negative points. It shows that the agency still has the capacity to review Iran's nuclear case," Mohammad Saeedi, deputy head of Iran's Atomic Energy Agency, told state radio. "The remaining issues are not major ones. We have expressed our readiness to answer the questions." Hours before the IAEA report was circulated, Ahmadinejad said Iran would disregard any UN measure to rein in its nuclear project and withstand its opponents. "Those who want to prevent Iranians from obtaining their right, should know that we do not give a damn about such resolutions," he told a rally in northwest Iran. - Agencies

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