Wed, Jan 25, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Tehran warns of full-scale enrichment

DEFIANT Iran's senior envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency warned that a UN referral could push it to develop a full-scale uranium enrichment program

AP , VIENNA

Iran upped the ante in its nuclear standoff with countries wanting to refer it to the UN Security Council, warning such action would lead Tehran to immediately forge ahead with developing a full-scale uranium enrichment program.

The message, delivered on Monday by Ali Asghar Soltaniyeh, Iran's senior envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), reflected Tehran's defiance in the face of growing international pressure over its nuclear program. Enrichment can be used in electricity production, but it is also a pathway to making nuclear weapons.

Deadline approaching

High-level international diplomacy intensified with little more than a week to go until Feb. 2 -- when the IAEA's 35-nation board meets to decide on referral.

Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, planned to travel to Moscow yesterday for a high-level session on a proposal to have Iran's uranium enriched in Russia, then returned to Iran for use in the country's reactors -- a compromise that would provide more oversight and ease tensions.

A European official said the two sides would discuss a possible additional refinement -- allowing Iran to conduct small-scale experimental enrichment on its own soil if it agreed to move all industrial production to Russia.

The official, who demanded anonymity in exchange for discussing confidential details of the negotiations, refused to say whether Britain, France and Germany -- the key European nations behind the US-supported push for referral -- would tolerate such a deal.

Those European nations and EU representatives also intensified diplomatic efforts, with diplomats saying they were sending senior representatives to Brazil, Russia, China and Indonesia to persuade these key IAEA board members to drop their opposition to referral.

Courting support

While the Europeans believe they have enough votes to get Iran hauled before the council on Feb. 2, they want broad support, including from key developing countries as well as skeptics Russia and China.

In Washington, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said "referral absolutely has to be made" on Feb. 2, while remaining vague on what action the Security Council would take -- and when.

Ending a 15-month commitment, Iran removed IAEA seals from equipment on Jan. 10 and announced it would restart experiments, including what it described as small-scale enrichment -- a move that led the so-called "EU-3" to call for the Feb. 2 emergency board session.

The Europeans also began drafting a basic text for a resolution calling for the Security Council to press Tehran to re-impose its total freeze on enrichment and fully cooperate with the UN agency in its investigation of suspect nuclear activities -- though it stops short of asking the council to impose sanctions.

Soltaniyeh, in comments to the AP, warned against referral, suggesting such a "hasty decision" would backfire.

Whether Iran's suspension of its full-scale enrichment program remains in effect "depends on the decision of Feb. 2," he said. Asked if that meant Iran would resume efforts to fully develop its nascent enrichment activities if the board votes for referral at that meeting, he said, ``yes.''

Iran insists its nuclear ambitions do not go beyond wanting to generate fuel, but concerns are growing its main focus is trying to make nuclear weapons -- something more than three years of IAEA investigations have failed to prove or disprove.

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