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Iran to remove U.N. seals at atomic research sites

Reuters | January 8, 2006
By Parisa Hafezi

TEHRAN - Iran said on Sunday it was preparing to remove U.N. seals at some nuclear research and development sites, despite strong Western opposition to its decision to resume atomic research halted over two years ago.

It would be the second time in five months that Iran, which insists its nuclear programme is peaceful, removed some seals put in place by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

European Union and U.S. officials have said the move, which follows Iran's resumption of uranium processing at its Isfahan plant in August, will jeopardise efforts to find a diplomatic solution to Iran's atomic ambitions and could accelerate calls for its case to be sent to the U.N. Security Council.

"We will remove the seals and we have announced that we are ready to start research from tomorrow," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told a weekly news conference.

"It depends on the IAEA to announce its readiness as this will take place under the agency's supervision," he added.

A resumption of atomic research and development would mean that all of Iran's nuclear programme, much of which was put on hold as part of negotiations with the EU that started in late 2003, was active once again apart from the actual enrichment of uranium at its unfinished Natanz facility.

Uranium enrichment is the most sensitive part of the nuclear fuel cycle since it can be used to produce bomb-grade material as well as nuclear reactor fuel.

Iran has not publicly disclosed what activities it plans to resume on Monday. Diplomats and analysts say atomic research and development could involve some laboratory tests of uranium enrichment and the assembly of enrichment centrifuges.

"R&D activities will be under the IAEA's supervision and there is nothing to be worried about," Asefi said.

IAEA IN THE DARK

IAEA officials say an Iranian team failed to show up for talks in Vienna last week to explain what activities Iran planned to resume.

Asked why the Iranian team flew back from Vienna without meeting the IAEA, Javad Vaeedi, deputy head of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, told state television on Saturday:

"Holding any meeting has to be based on the attainment of an aim and a result. The cancellation of the meeting in fact took place in this light."

Iran said on Saturday that an IAEA team had arrived in Tehran to supervise the resumption of research work. But an IAEA spokeswoman said the IAEA team were on a "routine visit" and that the agency was still awaiting clarifications from Iran.

Washington and the EU want Iran to agree to a proposal, put forward by Moscow, that Iran transfer all its uranium enrichment activities to a joint venture in Russia.

Russian and Iranian officials met in Tehran over the weekend to discuss the plan but Iran has made it clear it will only consider ideas that allow it to enrich on its own soil.

"We have a positive view regarding these talks, as do the Russians," Asefi said. "These talks can discuss different plans but the main issue is respecting and accepting Iran's legitimate rights."

Vaeedi warned that it would not be in the West's interest to refer Iran's case to the U.N. Security Council, where sanctions could be imposed on Tehran.

He noted that Iran's parliament approved a bill late last year whereby, should Iran's case be sent to the Security Council, Tehran would resume enrichment and scale back cooperation with IAEA inspectors.


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