(REUTERS) Iran said Monday it was losing patience with U.N. inspections of its nuclear program and announced that its agreement with the Europeans to halt uranium enrichment would soon come to an end.
Iran was taking a tough stance ahead of a key meeting at the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog which could decide whether to report Tehran to the U.N. Security Council if it is not convinced Iran’s nuclear program is entirely for peaceful purposes.
The United States has accused Iran of having a secret nuclear bomb program. Iran says its nuclear program is related solely to generating power.
Hossein Mousavian, head of Iran’s delegation at the meeting at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) told reporters the suspension of uranium enrichment was a voluntary gesture by Iran but it would be “just for a short, temporary period.”
He said the suspension would include far fewer activities than the Europeans had demanded. He gave no indication when Tehran planned to resume uranium enrichment.
The enrichment of uranium is a process that can be used to make fuel for weapons as well as for power plants.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Iran’s decision to restart some uranium enrichment had damaged the confidence Europe had in assurances Tehran made over its nuclear program in talks with Britain, France and Germany last October.
“Since then they have said they are going to restart part of that process. That has undermined confidence in the international community in Iran’s intention,” Straw told a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels.
“What Iran has to understand, is that it cannot turn the issue of confidence on and off like a tap,” he cautioned.
PERSUASION RATHER THAN ISOLATION
Britain, France and Germany circulated a draft resolution over the weekend, which will be revised in backroom talks on the sidelines of the IAEA meeting.
Although the text criticizes Iran for failing to halt all activities linked to uranium enrichment, it lacks what Washington wants — a “trigger” that could send Iran to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions.
Western diplomats from some of the 35 members of the IAEA board of governors said most board members support the EU trio’s strategy of trying to persuade Iran to give up nuclear fuel-making capabilities in exchange for a guarantee it can run a peaceful nuclear program.
The United States, which believes Iran has forfeited the right to any nuclear program by concealing its uranium enrichment program for nearly two decades, wants to punish and isolate Iran. But it has few supporters for this view.
IRAN WILL NEVER ABANDON ENRICHMENT
Mousavian rejected the possibility that Iran would abandon the nuclear fuel cycle and said Tehran had done more than enough to assure the world its atomic intentions were peaceful.
“Iran has taken all the necessary confidence building measures,” he said, adding that enrichment is the “legitimate right of all (IAEA) members.”
Mousavian said Iran was running out of patience with the U.N. inspection process and expected the agency to complete its investigation by the time the board met again in November.
The EU trio’s draft resolution circulating at the meeting calls on oil-rich Iran to dispel worries that it has a weapons program by November, at which time the board will “probably” consider whether any further steps are needed.
One Western diplomat said the vague wording did not lock the board into any particular course of action.
“It includes several possibilities. One is a report to the Security Council, which may or may not lead to economic sanctions,” the diplomat said. “Another is that the board might choose to drop Iran from its agenda altogether. Or the IAEA just continues with Iran the way it’s been going until now.”
The IAEA has been investigating Iran’s nuclear program for two years, since the exiled opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran reported in August 2002 that Tehran was concealing nuclear facilities from the U.N. watchdog.
It has uncovered many potentially weapons-related activities but has found nothing to confirm U.S. accusations that Iran has a secret nuclear bomb program.