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EU Says Iran 'Provocation' Flouts UN Nuclear Rules

International Atomic Energy Agency chief Yukiya Amano

International Atomic Energy Agency chief Yukiya Amano

VIENNA (Reuters) -- Iran violated transparency rules by failing to alert UN inspectors in time to escalated nuclear activity and faces harsher sanctions because of provocative and defiant behavior, the European Union said today.

The EU spoke in a debate by governors of the UN nuclear watchdog after its director voiced concern Iran may be trying to develop a nuclear-armed missile and said it began higher-grade uranium enrichment before his inspectors could beef up monitoring.

Iran, which has accused new International Atomic Energy Agency chief Yukiya Amano of bias towards Tehran's Western critics, says it gave inspectors adequate notice before scaling up enrichment for what it says are wholly peaceful ends.

Spain's envoy to the IAEA, speaking as the EU's current president, noted Amano's complaint that Iran started refining uranium up to 20 percent last month without inspectors present, although the IAEA had asked Iran to wait until they were.

This was a breach of Iran's nuclear safeguards accord with the IAEA, "which calls for notice of major changes 'sufficiently in advance,' " the unusually hard-hitting EU statement said.

'Reasons...Are Questionable'

It challenged Iran's assertion that enriching uranium to 20 percent purity, launching it most of the way down the road to yielding bomb-grade nuclear fuel, was solely to make material for powering a medical research reactor.

"In light of the fact that Iran does not appear to have the necessary technology and cannot produce the needed nuclear fuel assemblies to ensure the uninterrupted production of medical isotopes by the Tehran Research Reactor, and could procure the necessary isotopes on the international market, it follows that the reasons given for these enrichment activities are questionable," the EU statement said.

It said Iran's stated intention to build 10 more uranium enrichment plants despite successive UN Security Council resolutions demanding a nuclear suspension was "a further provocation and defiance" of the international community.

"...Iran's persistent failure to meet its international obligations and Iran's apparent lack of interest in pursuing negotiations require a clear response, including through appropriate measures," it said, using the diplomatic euphemism for harsher UN sanctions that Britain, France, Germany, and the United States are lobbying Russia and China to go along with.

Amano, defending his integrity against attacks by Iran and a developing nation bloc to which Tehran belongs, told the IAEA'S 35-nation governing board on March 1 that his findings were "factual and absolutely impartial."

Yukiya Amano spelled out a "clear" approach to Iranian nuclear activity after what Western diplomats said was the reluctance of predecessor Muhammed El-Baradei to confront Iran due to skepticism about the veracity of some intelligence on Tehran.

Amano said it was urgent for Iran to dispel suspicions by suspending nuclear fuel production, allowing unfettered UN inspections and opening up to IAEA investigators.