New York Times: Iran refused Thursday to abandon plans to operate uranium enrichment equipment that could be used either for energy purposes or in a nuclear bomb-making project, European and Iranian officials said. The refusal threatened to scuttle a nuclear agreement Iran reached 10 days ago with France, Britain and Germany to freeze all of Iran’s uranium enrichment activities, the European officials added.
New York Times
By ELAINE SCIOLINO
VIENNA – Iran refused Thursday to abandon plans to operate uranium enrichment equipment that could be used either for energy purposes or in a nuclear bomb-making project, European and Iranian officials said.
The refusal threatened to scuttle a nuclear agreement Iran reached 10 days ago with France, Britain and Germany to freeze all of Iran’s uranium enrichment activities, the European officials added. It also gave new ammunition to the Bush administration, which asserts that Iran has a secret nuclear weapons program and cannot be trusted.
The impasse coincided with the opening of crucial meetings to review Iran’s nuclear program at the International Atomic Energy Agency here, the United Nations nuclear monitoring body that has the authority to refer Iran to the United Nations for possible censure or sanctions.
Mohamed ElBaradei, the agency chief, said in a speech on Thursday that Iran had so far failed to meet its pledge to freeze fully its uranium enrichment because of its insistence on operating 20 centrifuges for research.
Noting Iran’s long history of concealment of its nuclear activities, Dr. ElBaradei said: “A confidence deficit has been created, and confidence needs to be restored. Iran’s active cooperation and full transparency is therefore indispensable.”
He also expressed the hope that the dispute over the centrifuges would “resolve itself” by Friday, and one of his aides said he was pressing the Iranians to back down.
Centrifuges are machines that spin at supersonic speed to purify or enrich uranium for use in nuclear reactors. When uranium is enriched to a very high degree, it can be used in a nuclear weapon.
But the new Iranian demand, contained in two formal letters to the agency, has the Europeans in a bind.
On the one hand, they have stated that their deal must stand as is and have told the Iranians that an exemption for any reason is unacceptable.
On the other hand, they are eager to salvage their hard-won deal and have already softened language in a draft resolution critical of Iran’s nuclear activities that is to be passed by the 35 nations that make up the agency’s governing board.
“Someone is going to have to back down,” said a Western diplomat involved in the negotiations. “Both Iran and the Europeans are in a very tough spot right now.”
In a blow to the Bush administration’s efforts to punish Iran for its nuclear activities, the European trio has rejected more than a dozen American proposals for a more harshly worded resolution against Iran, diplomats involved in the negotiations said.
Among the rejected proposals was a threat to take Iran to the Security Council for possible censure or even sanctions if it resumed any enrichment-related work, the diplomats said.
The Europeans told the Americans that such a threat would be incompatible with their agreement with Iran, which requires Iran to suspend all uranium enrichment activities in return for possible rewards that would be negotiated over time.
Another proposal rejected by the Europeans was a much softer amendment that would have welcomed Iran’s decision on the suspension of its enrichment activities as a “confidence-building measure” but also would have formally notified the Security Council of the agreement reached with the Europeans. For the Americans, that move at least would have put the Iran nuclear issue on the Security Council’s agenda and made it easier to debate the matter there.
American officials said they had been told that the American proposals would go against the spirit of the recent accord. When the American delegation questioned the wisdom of that approach, they were told repeatedly by their European allies that the United States would have to trust them.
The European trio, which is leading the drafting of the resolution, told the Americans and other delegations that it would not formally introduce it for consideration by the 35 nations unless the agency could certify that Iran had frozen all its enrichment activities.
European officials said they were convinced that the Iranians were using their demand to perform enrichment research as a bargaining chip to wrest last minute concessions in the resolution.
“We think it’s grandstanding,” a British official said. “But the Iranians should know there is no room for exceptions. The agreement is set in concrete.”
Indeed, members of the Iranian delegation suggested to journalists and other delegates that they would be willing to drop their new demand in exchange for a weaker resolution.
But the European trio was sufficiently alarmed that it told a meeting of delegations of the world’s major industrialized countries on Thursday that the deal would be “null and void” unless the Iranians relented, participants in the meeting said.
Because negotiations are continuing and the issues are so delicate, officials and diplomats spoke on condition that they would not be identified.
In Tehran on Thursday, Iran’s president, Mohammad Khatami, called the original draft resolution “not a good resolution,” adding that “intense negotiations” were under way to change it. “We are against the double standards of occupation and imposing policies on other countries,” he said.
Iran insists that it has the sovereign right to develop peaceful nuclear technology and that its freeze on its enrichment activities is both voluntary and temporary.
To prove its point, Iran refused to let inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency seal shut the 20 centrifuges it wants to use for research purposes, an agency official said.
The centrifuges are at the Natanz enrichment plant, a vast complex that was kept secret from United Nations inspectors until an Iranian opposition group disclosed its existence two years ago.
Only three days ago, Iran informed the agency that it had frozen the “whole enrichment process” in accordance with the agreement.
The new, watered-down draft resolution, which is still confidential but circulated among delegations on Thursday, is apparently still too harsh for Iran.
The official Iranian news agency IRNA quoted an unidentified Iranian diplomat in Vienna as saying the revised text still included an implicit threat to refer Iran to the Security Council if the international atomic agency decided Iran was violating the suspension.
Indeed, the latest draft calls on Dr. ElBaradei to “continue verifying that the suspension remains in place and to report without delay” to the board “should the agency find that the suspension is not fully sustained or should the agency be prevented from verifying all elements of the suspension,” according to the text.
Another clause of the text calls for Iran to allow the agency to have the access to sites inside Iran “deemed necessary” by the agency, a softening of an original call for Iran to provide “unrestricted access” to the agency.