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Iran resumes enrichment despite global warnings

Iran confirmed on Tuesday it had resumed limited uranium enrichment, as world powers warned it against any failure to cooperate over its suspect nuclear programme.

india Updated: Feb 15, 2006 02:54 IST

Iran confirmed on Tuesday it had resumed limited uranium enrichment, as world powers warned it against any failure to cooperate over its suspect nuclear programme.

"The work has resumed (at the Natanz enrichment facility)," said Javad Vaidi, a member of Iran's Supreme National Security Council.

The move came despite warnings from France, Russia and the United Nations not to take action that might escalate the tense dispute with the West over fears it is seeking the nuclear bomb.

Germany and China also expressed concern.

But Vaidi said it was "unacceptable" for Iran to halt its research on uranium enrichment, a process that makes reactor fuel but can also be extended to make the core of a nuclear weapon.

"There is no reason for the moment to return to the suspension (of activities at Natanz)," he added.

Vaidi cautioned that Iran "needs time to reach industrial capacity of up to 60,000 centrifuges" at Natanz, which has two enrichment facilities.

Iran, which insists its nuclear work is purely for energy generation, had warned yesterday it would not wait for a crucial meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency on March 6 to resume enrichment.

The IAEA voted on February 4 to report Iran to the Security Council, but left a one-month window for diplomacy, for Iran to return to a full suspension of enrichment-related work and cooperate more fully with IAEA inspectors.

So far Iran has reacted by doing the opposite, setting the scene for a major showdown.

The two sides had been due to hold talks on Thursday to develop Moscow's proposal for enrichment to be carried out on Russian soil, but Tehran postponed the visit.

Russia's idea is to guarantee Iran access to nuclear fuel needed to generate electricity but at the same time prevent the country from developing fuel cycle technology by itself and thereby the capacity to make a bomb.

The Russian plan, which Iran has been reluctant to accept, has received conditional and cautious support from the Western powers.

However, Russia and France signalled their growing impatience during a visit to Moscow by French Premier Dominique de Villepin.

Villepin and Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a joint declaration calling on Iran "to conform fully" with demands of the IAEA, "including the full suspension of all activities linked to enriching and recycling" of uranium.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier called for a united front in the international community.

"We believe that it is very important that the cohesion of the international community is maintained in the face of this challenge and we are working toward this objective," Steinmeier told reporters in Jordan.

"The UK, France and Germany have tried to contribute to the discussions and see to it that the nuclear ambition of Iran could be somewhat dampened.

First Published: Feb 15, 2006 02:14 IST