The Sunday Telegraph: Iran escalated its nuclear showdown with the West last night by ending international inspections of its atomic sites and preparing to restart uranium enrichment. The Sunday Telegraph
By Philip Sherwell in Washington and Kim Willsher in Paris
Iran escalated its nuclear showdown with the West last night by ending international inspections of its atomic sites and preparing to restart uranium enrichment.
Hours after Iran was reported to the United Nations Security Council for its nuclear programme, its officials were taking the first steps towards carrying out their threat to produce the material – which Western intelligence believes will be used for atomic weapons.
A spokesman for Iran’s hardline president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, denied earlier reports that he had already ordered the resumption. “Ahmadinejad has not taken any fresh measures today,” he said.
However, an Iranian diplomat said that the president could only make such an order after a letter expressing Iran’s intention had been received by the International Atomic Energy Agency at its headquarters in Vienna. Such a letter was due to be delivered late last night.
The flurry of diplomatic activity came after a resolution to report Iran to the UN, drafted by Britain and its European allies, was passed by the IAEA on the third day of an emergency board meeting. It was immediately condemned by Iranian officials.
Javad Vaidi, head of the Iranian delegation to the IAEA, said the “resolution is politically motivated since it is not based on any legal or technical grounds” and announced Teheran’s defiant response.
Iran also said that it would no longer consider an offer from its old ally Moscow to enrich uranium on its behalf on Russian soil.
America, which has spent the past two years pushing for Iran to be referred to the Security Council, welcomed the UN resolution. “It sends Iran a very clear and unmistakeable message that they need to abide by their international obligations and to heed the call of the international community,” said Sean McCormack, the State Department spokesman.
But Iran’s conviction that it can win its game of nuclear brinkmanship by exploiting divisions in the international community will have been bolstered by the diplomatic haggling in Vienna. The vote went through after a last minute compromise by the US, which dropped its opposition to the inclusion of wording backing a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East. Washington had seen this as a jibe at Israel’s undeclared atomic bomb programme.
Western diplomats were also forced to assure Russia, China and prominent developing nations such as India that sending Iran’s case to the Security Council did not mean that sanctions against the Islamic republic were an automatic next step.
The resolution was backed by 27 countries on the 35-member board, including Russia and China. Five abstained and the only dissenting voices were Syria, Cuba and Venezuela.
Iran has been given until a further IAEA meeting next month to comply with its previous accords before the Security Council steps in. The crisis deepened last month when Teheran broke IAEA seals at its Natanz uranium enrichment plant and resumed research there.
The Islamic regime claims that the nuclear programme that it kept secret for 18 years is only intended for civilian energy generation.
Concerns about a military confrontation were fuelled by reports yesterday that Iran had secretly tested a new surface-to-surface missile last month to establish the measurements needed for long-range missiles that could carry nuclear warheads. The German newspaper Die Welt reported that the tests were successful.
They were conducted by members of the Revolutionary Guard led by Yahya Rahim. “Iran has a ballistic missile with a range of 2,000 kilometres,” he said. “We do not intend to attack any country, but if attacked, we are capable of effectively responding.”
The leader of the Iranian exile group that first alerted the world to the secret nuclear programme said information from inside the country indicated that Teheran was much closer to making an atomic bomb than previously believed.
Maryam Rajavi, who heads the National Council of Resistance of Iran, urged Western governments to stop appeasing Teheran in order to prevent the regime acquiring nuclear weapons.
“Eighteen years of secrecy, three-plus years of man-oeuvering by the US, Europe and Russia have seriously imperilled the security of the world,” she told the Sunday Telegraph at the group’s headquarters at Auvers-sur-Oise, west of Paris. “Time has run out. I warn that either the Security Council acts quickly or the mullahs will have the bomb.”
Mrs Rajavi called on the West to implement political and economic sanctions, which she said would boost democratic resistance to the regime.