Iran won't freeze nuke program

Saturday, April 29, 2006

VIENNA, Austria -- Iran has defied a U.N. Security Council call to freeze uranium enrichment and is stonewalling efforts to determine if it is developing nuclear arms, the International Atomic Energy Agency said Friday in a report that strengthened Western calls for sanctions.

The United States and its allies reacted quickly, with Britain pledging to introduce a resolution next week for the council to issue a mandatory order for Iran to abandon uranium enrichment. Russia and China, however, have sought to avoid a showdown and opposed escalating pressures on Tehran.

President Bush said "the world is united and concerned" about what he called Iran's "desire to have not only a nuclear weapon but the capacity to make a nuclear weapon or the knowledge to make a nuclear weapon."

But, reflecting the lack of consensus on punishing Iran, he added, "I think the diplomatic options are just beginning."

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was defiant, saying that whatever resolution the Security Council adopts, it cannot make Iran give up its nuclear program. "The Iranian nation won't give a damn about such useless resolutions," he told a cheering crowd in northwestern Iran.

The eight-page report, drawn up by IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei for the Security Council and obtained by The Associated Press, contained few new revelations.

But it is larded with phrases reflecting Iran's refusal to cooperate with the Vienna-based agency, stymieing IAEA efforts to determine whether Tehran has made any efforts to build atomic weapons during 25 years of nuclear activity -- most of it clandestine.

"Iran declined to discuss these matters," the report said of the IAEA's questions about Tehran's enrichment program. "Iran continues to decline the agency's request for a copy of the document," it says about plans showing how to mold highly enriched uranium into the shape needed for a nuclear bomb.

"After more than three years of agency efforts to seek clarity about all aspects of Iran's nuclear program, the existing gaps in knowledge continue to be a matter of concern," the report said. "Any progress in that regard requires full transparency and active cooperation by Iran."

The report's primary importance was to serve formal notice that Iran ignored an informal 30-day deadline set by the council for suspending by Friday all activities linked to uranium enrichment.

Iran, which insists its program has only the peaceful purpose of producing fuel for nuclear reactors to generate electricity, played down the report -- and the unanswered questions.

"From our point of view, these few questions are not important. The main questions have been settled," Mohammed Saeedi, deputy head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, told Iranian state television.

Contending the report "does not contain negative points," he said it shows the IAEA has the capacity to investigate Iran's nuclear program and called the effort by some nations to have the Security Council take up the matter "completely wrong and misleading."

But with the report in, the council will now debate further steps, including the potential threat of sanctions and military action if Iran continues to defy the international community.

"We are concerned about the continued work that Iran is doing to acquire nuclear weapons capability," U.S. Ambassador John Bolton told reporters at U.N. headquarters. "We do think there's a sense of urgency here and we hope that we can get council action just as soon as possible."

Other world leaders expressed concern and underlined the need for international unity in dealing with Iran, although the common message appeared to be a reluctance to pursue coercion rather than diplomacy.

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said that while the report was worrisome, "we continue, nevertheless, to say to Iran that the door to negotiation is not closed."

Germany's foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, echoed that sentiment. "We maintain that the only solution is a diplomatic one," he said.

Russia and China, which have important business dealings with Iran, have strongly opposed taking harsh steps against the Tehran regime, arguing that would worsen the dispute. As two of the five permanent members on the Security Council, they have the power to veto its actions.

Deputy Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Kislyak described ElBaradei's report as a "very serious document," telling the Interfax news agency that the Kremlin would study it "very carefully."

The Chinese government indicated it had not changed its mind about opposing tough action.

"All we want is to work for a diplomatic solution because this region is already complicated, there are a lot of problems in the region, and we should not do anything that would cause the situation (to be) more complicated," said China's U.N. ambassador, Wang Guangya.

Bolton suggested the council was not likely to soon issue a resolution backed by the threat of sanctions or even military force.

"The first resolution would be simple and straightforward, 'making mandatory' last month's council requests on suspension of enrichment and full cooperation with IAEA inspectors," Bolton told The Associated Press in a phone call to Vienna.

"We would give Iran a short time to come into compliance. Then, if Iran doesn't come into compliance, we would consider what the next steps would be ... likely targeted sanctions."

While Bolton did not elaborate, sanctions would not likely be directed at Iran's oil industry, which has a crucial role in meeting the world's energy needs. They could include such measures as freezing Iranian assets and banning overseas travel by its top officials.

The report said Iran's claim to have enriched small amounts of uranium to a level of 3.6 percent purity -- fuel grade as opposed to the 90 percent-plus for weapons grade -- appeared to be true according to initial analysis of samples taken by IAEA inspectors.

Uranium conversion -- an activity linked to enrichment -- "is still ongoing," the report added, saying that more than 120 tons had been converted the past eight months. Were it used for weapons, that amount would be enough for more than 15 crude nuclear bombs, experts say.

In one of the few new developments, the report concluded the Iranians may have used undeclared plutonium in conducting small-scale separation experiments.

"The agency cannot exclude the possibility ... that the plutonium analyzed by the agency was derived from source(s) other than declared by Iran," it said. Plutonium separation is one of several suspect Iranian "dual use" activities -- those that have peaceful uses but also could be used in a weapons program.

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