Iran resumes uranium enrichment
By doing so, Iran raised the stakes in the standoff with the international community over its nuclear activities.Updated: Feb 13, 2006 16:52 IST
Iran has started putting uranium feedstock gas into centrifuges, the first step in manufacturing what can be either nuclear reactor fuel or material for an atom bomb, diplomats told a news agency on Monday.
Earlier Iran announced it would resume uranium enrichment even before the UN atomic watchdog meets next month.
By doing so, Iran raised the stakes in the standoff with the international community over its nuclear activities.
Asked whether Iran would wait for the International Atomic Energy Agency meeting on March 6 to resume industrial-scale enrichment, government spokesman Gholam Hossein Elham told reporters "No, No."
The IAEA on February 4 voted 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 with IAEA inspectors.
So far Iran has reacted by doing the opposite, setting the scene for a major showdown.
The government spokesman also announced that talks between Tehran and Moscow aimed at finding a compromise by having Iranian uranium enriched on Russian soil would not go ahead as planned on Thursday.
The two sides had been set to develop Moscow's proposal for uranium enrichment -- which makes reactor fuel but can be extended to make the core of a nuclear weapon -- to be carried out on Russian soil.
"The negotiations have not been cancelled but the date for the talks is another matter," he said.
However, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Kislyak said Moscow was still expecting an Iranian delegation, adding: "Our offer for the 16th still stands."
The Iranian spokesman had said "new elements" were responsible for the delay, notably the fact that the Iranian government "insists that uranium enrichment for peaceful purposes is carried out inside the country."
Russia's idea is to guarantee Iranian access to nuclear fuel needed to generate electricity but at the same time prevent the country from developing fuel cycle technology by itself and therefore the capacity to make a bomb.
The plan has received conditional and cautious support from western powers.
But Iran, which says it only wants to generate electricity and denies any plans to develop weapons, has been reluctant to give up what it sees as a right to enrich on its soil.
Iran's stance has also hardened after the International Atomic Energy Agency's 35-nation board of governors voted on February 4 to report the Iranian case to the UN Security Council, which could impose sanctions.
On Saturday, the Islamic republic's outspoken President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad warned that Iran could follow the path of North Korea and quit the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
"Iran has continued its nuclear drive within the framework of the International Atomic Energy Agency and the NPT, but if we see that you want to deprive us of our right using these regulations, know that the people will revise their policy in this regard," Ahmadinejad said.
The NPT is the cornerstone of the global battle against the spread of nuclear weapons, prohibiting the development of the bomb and subjecting its signatories to IAEA inspections.
"We insist that we should be able to benefit from civil nuclear technology as recognised by the NPT and the West must acknowledge this absolute right," Elham said on Monday. "If they do that, we will stick to it."
Iran is under intense pressure to agree to a moratorium on nuclear fuel work that can be extended to make weapons, but argues that its nuclear ambitions are therefore entirely legal.
Iran's parliament speaker Gholam Ali Hadad-Adel said on Sunday that an IAEA team had arrived in the country to supervise the resumption of nuclear research which he said would start on Sunday or Monday.
The Sunday Telegraph newspaper in London reported that US military strategists were drawing up plans for an attack as a last resort.
In a front-page dispatch from Washington, it said Central Command and Strategic Command planners were "identifying targets, assessing weapon-loads and working on logistics for an operation".
First Published: Feb 13, 2006 15:48 IST