Saturday, August 27, 2005

Chicago Tribune | Iran defends right to enrich uranium

Chicago Tribune | Iran defends right to enrich uranium

By George Jahn
Associated Press
Published August 27, 2005

VIENNA -- Tehran's top nuclear envoy said Friday that Iran will not negotiate away its right to enrich uranium and shrugged off threats of possible UN action if Tehran insists on possessing technology that could be used to make the bomb.

On his first trip abroad as the nuclear point man for Tehran's new government, Ali Larijani delivered an old message: Iran will talk to anybody on reducing suspicions about its agenda but will not budge on its central argument that it is permitted to enrich uranium under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

Uranium is enriched by turning the raw ore into gas, which is then spun in centrifuges. Enriched to a low level, it can be used as fuel for a reactor; at a high level, it can be used for a bomb.

Larijani spoke to reporters after meeting with Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, for discussions focusing on his country's decision to resume uranium conversion, the precursor to enrichment.

Diplomats say a report being prepared by ElBaradei for the Sept. 19 meeting of the IAEA's board of governors, will disclose new details on Tehran's experiments with small amounts of plutonium, a key component of nuclear weapons.

Larijani acknowledged that "there are a number of areas where the agency [still] had questions" relating to its three-year investigation of Iran's nuclear program prompted by the discovery of nearly two decades of illicit activities--including some with possible weapons applications. But he said his country was interested in quickly putting to rest remaining suspicions.

An IAEA statement said ElBaradei had said that the two-hour meeting was "constructive and that Mr. Larijani expressed his commitment to cooperating closely with the IAEA to resolve outstanding issues about its nuclear program."

While Iran hopes talks with Europe on easing tensions over Tehran's nuclear ambitions can be revived, it does not fear the possibility of UN Security Council action if it continues activities linked to uranium enrichment, he said.

"With the power it enjoys in the region, there is no way that Iran can be worried about the threat of the Security Council," Larijani said.

Any Security Council involvement carries the threat of sanctions. Past U.S. attempts for referral have been rebuffed by the majority of the 35 IAEA board nations, but sentiment has recently grown for such a move.

Larijani also said South Africa was one of "several" countries responding positively to his call to expand talks on his country's nuclear program beyond the three European nations most recently negotiating with Tehran.

"South Africa was actively interested," he told reporters.

Larijani called Thursday for other nations besides France, Germany and Britain to open talks with his country on its nuclear program. On Friday, however, he said he hoped the negotiations with the "European Three" would continue.

Even so, Larijani's suggestion appeared to be a bid to bring nations more sympathetic to Tehran's cause on board. Such a move would probably weaken what has been an unusually unified front by Europe and Washington.

The United States, which accuses Iran of seeking to develop atomic weapons, dismissed Iran's suggestion as a "typical tactic of the Iranian government designed to change the subject."


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