"Nuclear Pledge Broken"
January 21, 2004
Anton La Guardia
Senior western diplomats accused Iran yesterday of breaking a promise to halt uranium enrichment, a key process in making a nuclear weapon.
The Iranian undertaking, given three months ago, was hailed at the time as marking a new approach to the disarmament of rogue states through diplomacy rather than war but western officials said Teheran was still buying and assembling machines to enrich uranium. "The Iranians are definitely still out procuring equipment," said one senior western source.
"This is clearly a breach. The goal is cessation of enrichment and we are moving in the opposite direction."
Iran says it has only "temporarily" suspended operation of the gas centrifuges to enrich uranium and insists it has a right to make fuel for nuclear reactors to generate electricity.
However its behaviour will deepen suspicion in America and Europe that Teheran's civil nuclear programme is being used to mask a secret project to build an atomic bomb.
The latest disclosure could undermine the fragile agreement negotiated in October by Britain, France and Germany to avert a new crisis over weapons of mass destruction.
Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, met his German and French counterparts on Monday to discuss Iran and other issues.
Diplomats said the United States was certain to raise the enrichment issue when the governing board of the United Nations' nuclear watchdog meets in March.
This carries the implied threat to refer Iran to the UN Security Council for possible sanctions.
"If the Iranians want to go to the Security Council, they are going about it the right way," said one diplomat. "We are in the middle of a negotiation. Like all negotiations with Iran, it's hard work. You have to do a lot to get a little."
Under concerted pressure from America and Europe, Teheran admitted in November to lying about its nuclear programme for 18 years, confirmed it had made small quantities of weapons-grade uranium and plutonium and agreed to a new system of intrusive inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Iran also promised to suspend "all uranium enrichment-related activities" as part of the deal that saved Iran from being referred to the Security Council and being treated as an international pariah.
However, the issue is now mired in a legalistic argument over what constitutes "enrichment activities". Diplomats said the Iranians had adopted a very narrow definition: halting the operation of gas centrifuges while continuing to build up their facilities.
However the Americans and Europeans believe Iran should stop building the machines or even importing the components. The Europeans' aim is to convince Iran to abandon uranium enrichment in exchange for guaranteed supplies of nuclear fuel from Russia or western Europe.
Iran's move in November was seen as a major diplomatic breakthrough, and a tangible success for the war in neighbouring Iraq.
But Iran's co-operation now looks half-hearted after Libya's dramatic announcement last month that it was ridding itself of all weapons of mass destruction.
American and British weapons experts, overseen by the CIA and MI6, arrived in Tripoli at the weekend to dismantle the weapons programmes and aim to complete the job "in weeks or months". Much now depends on Mohammed ElBaradei, the head of the international atomic agency. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2004/01/21/wiran21.xml&sSheet=/portal/2004/01/21/ixportal.html