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EU offers olive branch to Iran on nuclear issue

AFP | March 7, 2007

The European Union urged Iran on Wednesday to take up an offer to suspend its nuclear enrichment in return for suspending sanctions on Tehran.

"We therefore urge Iran to take up the offer of double suspension, as endorsed recently by the director general," French ambassador Francois-Xavier Deniau said, speaking for the three EU powers mediating in the nuclear standoff.

He was referring to an offer from International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Mohamed ElBaradei, who made the offer of simultaneity in January to make it easier for Iran to swallow a December 23 UN Security Council resolution that imposed sanctions in order to get Iran to unilaterally suspend enrichment. But Iranian ambassador to the IAEA Ali Asghar Soltanieh said Iran has not found "any reason" to suspend enrichment, which it claims as a right under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Uranium enrichment makes fuel for civilian nuclear reactors but also what could be atom bomb material.

Iran has refused to stop enriching uranium but says it is ready to talk without preconditions, thus rejecting both the UN resolution and any compromise.

Soltanieh said the West was deceiving the international community by saying the matter must be handled by the Security Council.

He said Iran has mastered enrichment.

"I know that Americans do not want the world to know this reality. They have to swallow this reality."

As the EU offered an olive branch, the United States made a hardline call on the IAEA to give immediate notification if Iran moves ahead on enriching uranium at a huge underground site where it could do weapons-related work.

US ambassador Gregory Schulte told the IAEA's 35-nation board of governors meeting in Vienna since Monday that ElBaradei should inform the board "immediately . . . should Iran introduce nuclear material into any centrifuges in its underground plant" in Natanz.

Iran has refused to allow cameras into the hall where centrifuges are being installed to enrich uranium, a major expansion on a smaller research site already refining uranium above-ground.

Iran wants to install 3,000 centrifuges, which could make enough highly enriched uranium for a bomb in less than a year, in Natanz by May, and then eventually expand this to over 50,000 centrifuges.

Iran has more than 300 centrifuges already turning underground, where they are protected from air attacks, but has not yet inserted the uranium gas feedstock needed to enrich. It has installed a similar number which are not yet turning their rotors.

Schulte and IAEA officials have said that camera monitoring is mandated under the NPT once the number of operating centrifuges exceeds 500.

But Soltanieh said this was not true.

Iran has failed to heed the call by the UN Security Council, based on findings by the IAEA, to halt its uranium enrichment work.

"Iran is instead expanding activities that the Council has required Iran to suspend and is failing to provide the IAEA with the cooperation required by the Council," Schulte said.

The IAEA is the monitoring arm of the NPT.

The UN atomic agency was set Thursday to ratify drastic cuts in technical aid to Iran, as debate on this failed to conclude Wednesday.

Also Wednesday, Western states as well as Japan and non-aligned countries welcomed an upcoming trip by ElBaradei to North Korea and urged Pyongyang to swiftly dismantle its own nuclear weapons programme, according to an international agreement reached February 13.



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