Fri, Jun 18, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Iran could resume uranium program

RIFT With the IAEA on the verge of issuing a tough rebuke, President Mohammad Khatami said his country no longer had a `moral commitment' to European countries

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , VIENNA, AUSTRIA

Iran threatened on Wednesday to resume its enrichment of uranium -- a prerequisite for making nuclear weapons -- if the International Atomic Energy Agency passed an expected resolution rebuking it for not cooperating.

Iranian President Mohammad Khatami said his country no longer had a "moral commitment" to suspend uranium enrichment, though he added that it had not made a decision to restart such work.

"If the draft resolution proposed by the European countries is approved by the IAEA, Iran will reject it," Khatami said in Tehran. "If Europe has no commitment toward Iran, then Iran will not have a commitment toward Europe."

Khatami's statement deepened the rift between Iran and the atomic energy agency, a UN watchdog group, as its 35-member governing board was close to passing a toughly worded resolution deploring Tehran's lack of cooperation with its investigation of the country's nuclear program.

The US accused Iranian officials of trying to push board members into softening the criticism.

"They're trying to intimidate the board and individual states," said Kenneth Brill, the US ambassador to the agency. "It really makes us question their claims that they have nothing to hide."

There had been expectations that the resolution would be proposed on Wednesday, but diplomats said they were at odds over some phrases in the introduction. They said they hoped to propose it yesterday morning.

Representatives from Iran spent the day scrambling to delete a provision calling for the cancellation of Tehran's plans to build a heavy-water research reactor and to start operations at a uranium conversion plant.

The resolution, drafted by the UK, France and Germany, said those projects raised suspicions that Iran would not suspend uranium enrichment, as it promised last October in an agreement with the three countries.

The head of Iran's delegation here, Hossein Mousavian, insisted that the projects were outside the scope of the agreement. He also insisted that Iran had met all its obligations to the Europeans, as well as to the agency, which has been scrutinizing Iran's nuclear program for more than two years.

The resolution, Mousavian warned, would undermine relations between Iran and the agency, particularly among hard-line members of Iran's Parliament, some of whom have threatened that they will not ratify an agreement permitting unannounced inspections of its nuclear facilities.

In Tehran on Wednesday, the Iranian foreign minister noted that the Parliament, which has been controlled by conservative opponents of the government since elections last February, might be more reluctant to cooperate by ratifying the agreement.

"We have told the Europeans that the new Parliament does not think the same way as the previous Parliament, and that should be considered in their calculations," the foreign minister, Kamal Kharazai, was quoted as saying by the Islamic Republic News Agency.

Despite their vitriolic tone, Iranian officials stopped short of darker threats, like refusing access to UN inspectors or withdrawing from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, as North Korea did. Mousavian, in fact, said he saw no reason to "cut relations with the IAEA."

The future of ties between Iran and Europe, he suggested, was more problematic. "Internally, a lot of people cannot trust the promises of cooperation with the Europeans," Mousavian said.

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