Iran Nuclear NewsIran scuppers deal with west on uranium tests

Iran scuppers deal with west on uranium tests

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The Guardian: Iran is expected to resume testing machinery next week that can be used to make weapons-grade uranium in a move that appears calculated to scupper the prospects of a settlement of its long-running nuclear dispute with the west. The Guardian

· Tehran officials refuse to meet atomic agency
· Rice warns time is running out to avoid UN censure

Ian Traynor

Iran is expected to resume testing machinery next week that can be used to make weapons-grade uranium in a move that appears calculated to scupper the prospects of a settlement of its long-running nuclear dispute with the west.

Senior Iranian officials yesterday snubbed Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, by failing to show up at a scheduled meeting in Vienna after the IAEA chief demanded an explanation of Iran’s plans.

Earlier this week Tehran told the IAEA that it was resuming research into nuclear fuel which was suspended more than two years ago, but refused to supply details on what kind of research.

Iranian officials flew from Tehran to Vienna yesterday to brief Dr ElBaradei, but then decided against doing so in a move that baffled diplomats and IAEA officials.

A senior official familiar with the details of the exchanges between the IAEA and Iran earlier in the week said Iran would probably resume work next week with uranium centrifuges, work that has been frozen for 30 months under the terms of negotiations with Britain, Germany and France.

“They suspended certain activities and now they have decided to resume certain activities,” said the senior official. “All those activities were enrichment-related. It sounds like they will start some experiments with centrifuges.”

Such a step would be in breach of previous IAEA orders that Iran suspend “all uranium enrichment-related activities” and of the terms of the negotiating agreement between Iran and Britain, Germany, and France. It could deal a death blow to the long-running but currently deadlocked negotiations and may reflect the more aggressive and confrontational positions taken on foreign policy and the nuclear issue by Iran’s new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Yesterday the US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, signalled growing impatience with Iran, indicating that time is running out for it to avoid being brought before the UN security council.

“When it’s clear that negotiations are exhausted, we have the votes,” she told reporters. “There is a resolution sitting there for referral. We’ll vote it. That’s not sabre rattling, that’s diplomacy … and diplomacy includes what you do in the security council.”

Russian officials were due to travel to Tehran this weekend to try to cobble together a compromise on Iran’s uranium enrichment projects. It is not clear whether the visit will go ahead. The EU troika was also scheduled to restart exploratory talks with the Iranians in a fortnight. Those also now look in jeopardy. “We don’t know what they mean by research and development,” said a European diplomat. “We need to establish that. No one has any clear idea. Everything now depends on what the agency is told.”

Not for the first time, the Iranians appeared to have caught the western powers off guard through their negotiating gambits, first by abruptly informing the IAEA this week that nuclear fuel research would be resumed next week and then by refusing to show up for scheduled meetings to explain what they intended doing.

“They just said they weren’t coming. They told us,” said one diplomat involved.

Earlier this week, Mr Ahmadinejad delivered a tirade against the European powers of the type Iran usually reserves for the US. The president denounced 16 years of appeasement of Europe by his two predecessors in office and signalled that he saw no point in negotiating with the Europeans.

On Wednesday evening he pledged to push ahead with nuclear research, dismissing international pressure and reiterating the remarks that recently stirred worldwide outrage – that the Nazis’ mass murder of European Jews was “a big historical lie”.

The hardline, uncompromising tone from Tehran, say western diplomats, and acute “inexperience” among the new team of Iranian nuclear negotiators diminishes the chances of any quick breakthrough on the nuclear dispute.

The Guardian disclosed earlier this week that, according to the latest European intelligence assessments, Iran is marshalling scores of agencies, companies and middlemen to procure equipment and knowhow in Europe for its weapons and nuclear programmes.

Next week’s resumption of nuclear activities is, however, expected to fall short of actually feeding uranium gas into the centrifuge machines which spin it into nuclear fuel. Rather, the Iranians are more likely to start assembling and testing a limited number of centrifuges and declare that they are still not enriching uranium.

The Iranian brinkmanship over the past two years has consistently tried to proceed incrementally so as to keep the 35-strong board of the IAEA in Vienna split between a faction led by the US who are demanding punitive action through the security council and those who believe that the Iranians have not behaved badly enough to merit punishment.

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