Iran won't give up uranium enrichment

Sunday, August 1, 2004

TEHRAN, Iran -- A defiant Iran on Saturday said it had resumed building nuclear centrifuges, saying the move was retaliation for the failure of three European powers to get its file closed at the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency.

The announcement by Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi hardened the lines between Iran and the United States, which has been pushing to take Iran's nuclear program to the U.N. Security Council.

Kharrazi told a news conference that Iran has not resumed enriching uranium but was manufacturing centrifuges in response to the failure in June of Britain, Germany and France to help close Iran's file of possible nuclear nonproliferation violations at the International Atomic Energy Agency.

"We still continue suspension on uranium enrichment, meaning that we have not resumed enrichment," Kharrazi said. "But we are not committed to another agreement with them [Britain, Germany and France] on not building centrifuges."

Diplomats said this week that Tehran had resumed building equipment used to make uranium hexafluoride which -- when processed in centrifuges -- can be enriched to low levels for power generation or high levels for nuclear weapons.

In Paris talks, officials from Iran and the European powers are seeking to reach a consensus on Tehran's nuclear program.

Washington suspects Iran is using a civilian nuclear program as a cover for a secret nuclear weapons project. It has been lobbying for the IAEA to refer Iran's nuclear file to the U.N. Security Council, which could impose sanctions.

The Paris talks prepare the ground for a September meeting of the board of governors of the IAEA, which is expected to discuss Iran's program.

Kharrazi said the talks were designed to instill confidence that Iran is not seeking to make a nuclear weapon.

"We are holding these talks to reach further understanding and create more confidence in the direction that we are not seeking nuclear weapons," he said. "At the same time, we will insist on our legitimate rights."

A prominent hard-line editor, Hossein Shariatmadari, wrote Saturday that the Paris talks may result in humiliation for Iran.

In an editorial in Kayhan, he predicted that America's European allies will produce a "silent overthrow" of the ruling Islamic establishment in Iran, and that they would use the nuclear program as a lever to that end.

Shariatmadari is close to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on all state matters.

Government officials were not immediately available for comment on Shariatmadari's remarks.

Hard-liners have urged the government to defy the IAEA, expel U.N. inspectors and resume uranium enrichment. The government, though, has taken a more moderate approach in the hope of avoiding international isolation.

Iran maintains its nuclear program is for electricity generation.

Iran suspended uranium enrichment last year under international pressure. In return, Britain, Germany and France promised to make it easier for Iran to obtain advanced nuclear technology.

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