TEHRAN, Iran — Iranian technicians will break U.N. seals on the Isfahan nuclear plant on Monday, allowing uranium processing to resume, a spokesman for Iran’s Supreme National Security Council said.
Officials from the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog agency will supervise the removal of the United Nations seals, the first step toward restarting central Iran’s Isfahan Nuclear Conversion Facility, said Ali Agha Mohammadi, spokesman for Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, according to a report from the official IRNA news agency.
Reprocessing uranium is a step below uranium enrichment, which is to remain suspended, said Mohammadi. The United States claims the Iranian nuclear program is designed to produce weapons, a claim Iran denies.
Iran’s apparent decision to call off its nuclear freeze sparked an immediate warning from the European Union, which said any move to restart enrichment would damage EU-Iran trade talks.
“We expect Iran to live up to the commitment of the Paris agreement” of nuclear talks with the EU, said European Commission spokesman Stefaan De Rynck.
The work is to resume at the Isfahan plant, which converts uranium ore concentrate, known as yellowcake, into uranium gas, the feedstock for enrichment.
Iranian officials made clear that Iran won’t resume the more important step of actual enrichment — injecting uranium gas into centrifuges used to enrich uranium — in a separate plant in Natanz, central Iran.
Uranium enriched to high levels can be used for nuclear bombs; at low levels it is used as fuel for electricity-producing nuclear power plants.
The European Union head office warned Iran on Monday that progress in EU-Iran trade talks were unlikely if Tehran resumes its nuclear program.
“We expect Iran to live up to the commitment” made at nuclear talks in Paris, said European Commission spokesman Stefaan De Rynck. “Progress in such an agreement is unlikely unless the Paris agreement has a successful follow-up.”
Earlier Monday, Iran’s parliamentary speaker said Tehran was giving European negotiators until 5 p.m. (8:30 a.m. EDT) to submit an incentives package to Iran before it would announce any such resumption.
But Iran’s instructions to the IAEA appeared to be a break from that arrangement.
Iran’s apparent decision to restart a step in uranium reprocessing could trigger a call by European and American officials to haul Iran before the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions.
European diplomats said Sunday that if Isfahan were restarted, an emergency International Atomic Energy Agency board meeting would be called to set a deadline for the Iranians to “see the error of their ways” and stop their enrichment activities.
If such a deadline were not met, a Security Council referral was a likely next step, the officials said.
Iranian officials have signaled an intensifying impatience with the slow pace of negotiations with Europe, and an incoming conservative administration in Tehran has showed signs of wanting to harden the country’s stance.
Germany, which along with Britain and France have been leading U.S.-backed EU negotiations, said Monday that European negotiators plan to submit their proposal for Iran’s atomic program “in a few days.”
German Foreign Ministry spokesman Jens Ploetner said the deadline for their proposal, aimed at persuading Iran to permanently freeze parts of its contentious nuclear program, particularly uranium enrichment, had never been more specific than “the end of July, early August.”
“We have no intention of cutting off dialogue with Europe. We are willing to continue dialogue with them after we resume part of our nuclear activities,” parliamentary speaker Gholam Ali Hadad Adel said earlier Monday. “Iran will not give in to any further waste of time.”
On Sunday, an IAEA official said the Europeans would present their proposal to Iran next week.
The proposal, which still being finished, includes nuclear fuel, technology, other aid and “security guarantees” that Iran won’t be invaded if it permanently halts uranium enrichment and related activities, European and Iranian officials confirmed.
Iran suspended enrichment of uranium in November under international pressure.
France, Britain and Germany, acting on behalf of the 25-nation European Union, had been expected to present the proposals to Iran by the beginning of August, but they requested a delay until Aug. 7.