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IAEA Begins Emergency Session On Iran

9 August 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The 35-member governing board of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has begun an emergency meeting following Iran's partial resumption yesterday of sensitive nuclear activities at a uranium-conversion facility near Isfahan.

France, Britain, and Germany -- the so-called "EU-3" -- had requested the meeting last week, after Tehran announced its plans to resume uranium conversion. The EU countries say Iran's return to nuclear activities has created a "grave crisis" that requires a united response from the international community.

Today's IAEA meeting was expected to end with a warning to Iran to reverse its decision to resume work at Isfahan.

That warning, however, was not expected to extend to a referral to the United Nations Security Council for possible sanctions.

A diplomat close to the IAEA told news agencies that that decision will be reserved for a subsequent meeting, if one is deemed necessary.

All activities at Isfahan had been suspended since November, following an agreement between Iran and the EU-3 to hold further negotiations on Iran's nuclear program.

But Iran yesterday began once again to feed uranium ore concentrate into an initial processing cycle at the uranium-conversion facility.

This is not a violation of Iran's obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT(, but EU officials say the step contradicts the November agreement.

The United States has expressed concern that Iran seeks to develop nuclear weapons. Tehran says its nuclear facilities are for civilian purposes only.

Mohammad Saidi, the vice president of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, said yesterday that he is not afraid the IAEA might refer Tehran to the Security Council for possible sanctions.

"There is no reason for such a resolution to be passed by the IAEA," Saidi said. "We will only accept a resolution that will be compatible with the NPT safeguard agreement and the additional protocol [to the NPT]. Iran believes it has done nothing wrong. It is our right to use nuclear technology like all countries such as Germany, Japan, Argentina, and Brazil.”

The EU-3 was quick to condemn Iran's decision to resume work at Isfahan.

Britain and France used words like "damaging" and "alarming" to describe the move. Germany urged Tehran to return to the negotiating table and warned of "disastrous consequences" if Iran acquired nuclear weapons.

Washington had strong words as well, saying Iran was "thumbing its nose" the productive approach taken by the EU-3, which had offered trade and political incentives to persuade Iran to suspend work at Isfahan.

U.S. State Department spokesman Adam Ereli declined to speculate on the possible outcome of today's IAEA meeting.

"We will be conferring with our EU-3 and other [IAEA] board-of-governor colleagues about what is the appropriate step to take in response to what has happened and how we can effectively address the concerns of the international community," Ereli said.

Sadegh Zibakalam, a professor at Tehran University, said he believes Iran's defiance on the nuclear issue is a gesture by Iran's conservative camp.

That camp won near-complete control over Iran's state institutions following the victory of hard-liner Mahmud Ahmadinejad in the country's presidential election in June.

Now, Zibakalam said, they are eager to show they are in control of Iran's foreign policy.

“The new government does not want to face a serious foreign policy crisis in its early days," Zibakalam said. "The conservative faction, which now has the power in Iran, does not want such a thing. But at the same time, they want to a certain degree to tell their audience inside Iran -- which includes some radical movements -- and the West that [they are in charge] now. But at the same time, the doors are open for negotiation, and Iran does not want [a crisis].”

Tehran announced yesterday that Ahmadinejad had appointed Ari Larijani, the former hard-line chief of the state broadcasting agency, to lead Iran's nuclear negotiations.

The move is seen as a sign Iran's nuclear stance is hardening. Larijani was openly critical of past negotiations with the EU-3.

But Zibakalam said he believes Larijani will have no choice but to continue the negotiations, and find a compromise solution regarding Iran’s nuclear activities.

“[Larijani] used a famous phrase [in reference to the suspension of uranium enrichment]: They gave a rare pearl in return for a lollipop," Zibakalam said. "But I think when he himself is leading the negotiations, and if he wants to prevent sanctions and confrontation, then I think he will one day regret this view. The reality is that an agreement has to be reached one way or another. And if we stand firm and say that this is our stance and we won't change it -- such a position, in my view, will not be a benefit to our national interests in the long term."

Iranian officials have said that they are willing to continue negotiations over the country’s nuclear program.

Iran also says that although it has resumed some nuclear activities, it has not begun actual uranium enrichment -- a key stage in producing nuclear weapons.

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