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Iran: Tehran To Resume Building Nuclear Centrifuges

Muhammad el-Baradei (file photo) The head of the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency on 27 June urged Iran to abandon its decision to build centrifuges as part of its nuclear program. Iran announced in a letter last week that it will resume building centrifuges as of tomorrow, but will continue to suspend uranium enrichment. Iran's decision came after a recent IAEA resolution criticized Tehran for not cooperating fully with nuclear inspectors.

Prague, 28 June 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the United States, and the European Union have criticized Iran's decision to resume building centrifuges -- an apparatus that can be used to create weapons-grade enriched uranium.

Iran's decision to manufacture centrifuge components and assemble and test centrifuges for its nuclear program was announced last week in a letter to the head of the IAEA as well as to Britain, France, and Germany.

Iran says its decision came after Britain, France, and Germany failed to keep their promise to convince the IAEA to remove from its agenda by June its investigation into Iran's nuclear program.

Under a deal brokered last year by France, Germany, and Britain, Iran agreed to fully cooperate with the IAEA and to suspend its uranium-enrichment activities. The three European countries in return promised to ease Iran's access to advanced nuclear technology.

Tehran says its nuclear program is for civilian purposes only, and not to build weapons of mass destruction, as the United States has alleged.

Britain's "The Guardian" newspaper today quoted unnamed Western diplomats as saying Iran had never fully honored its promise. The paper quoted one as saying, "They had suspended about 95 percent of the activities, but it's the other 5 percent that bothers us."

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said yesterday that Tehran wants the IAEA and the three European countries to supervise Iran's building, assembling, and testing of centrifuges when the program resumes. Assefi said Iran will continue to suspend its uranium-enrichment program, despite proceeding with work on the centrifuges.

Defense analyst Paul Beaver said Iran's decision has a "dangerous connotation.” "The problem is that, if it just builds centrifuges, it's a little bit like Iran saying, 'Well, we're going to have nuclear warheads and we're going to have ballistic missiles, and keep them in different parts of the country so you need not worry,'" he said. "It wouldn't take them very long to start the centrifuge program. I see this as a negotiating tool, a negotiating ploy. This is their current position and I can see them having that position in place as a way of trying to influence the international community and trying to gain some political or diplomatic power."

The IAEA board of governors unanimously adopted on 18 June a resolution "deploring" Iran's lack of full cooperation in disclosing the extent and details of its nuclear program. The EU-drafted resolution was condemned by Iran as politically motivated.

Speaking yesterday in Moscow, IAEA Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei expressed hope that the move will be temporary, and that Iran will go back to full suspension of its activities. "They said that they are going to boost manufacturing, assembly, and testing of part of their centrifuges," he said. "That's what the letter says. I hope it wouldn't change the dialogue. I hope it will be temporary. I hope Iran will also go back to a comprehensive suspension as they have committed to us before. So I hope this is not a major reversal. But we still need to work with them."

The United States condemned on 27 June Iran's decision to continue making centrifuges. White House spokesman Scott McClellan said, "Iran needs to come clean and fully cooperate with its international obligations." He said the United States has expressed concern within the IAEA about the need to seriously consider sending the matter to the UN Security Council.
"Whether we close the Iranian file next months or in six months from now depends on the cooperation we get from Iran." -- el-Baradei

U.S. national security adviser Condoleezza Rice said that Iran was providing daily proof why it belonged in the "axis of evil" -- the phrase used by President George W. Bush to describe Iran, Iraq, and North Korea. But at the same time, Rice said that a diplomatic solution to the row over its nuclear program was still "within sight."

In a joint statement on 26 June, the United States and the European Union called on Iran to rethink its decision to resume centrifuge construction. The countries of the EU are engaged in a policy of constructive dialogue with the Islamic republic. Some analysts view Iran's decision to resume building centrifuges as a blow to the EU's policy of engagement.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Assefi said yesterday that Iran's decision did not mean an end to dialogue with the EU. He added that talks between Tehran and Paris, Berlin, and London are planned for the coming days. He also said Iran had cooperated with the IAEA in the past, and will continue to do so in the future.

The UN nuclear agency says it will not remove the Iranian issue from its agenda until it has the assurances it wants that Tehran is not pursuing a weapons program. Speaking yesterday, el-Baradei said, "Whether we close the Iranian file next months or in six months from now depends on the cooperation we get from Iran."
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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL focusing on Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is one of the authors of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.