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Iran: Tehran Reportedly To Start New Round Of Uranium Conversion

An inspector at Iran's Isfahan uranium-conversion facility (official site) A diplomat close to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is quoted by agencies as saying that Iran has started a new round of uranium conversion. The move comes despite international pressure on the Islamic republic to halt all its sensitive nuclear activities.

Prague, 17 November 2005 (RFE/RL) -- IAEA inspectors are reported to have witnessed a new round of uranium conversion at the Isfahan facility in central Iran.

However, a spokesman for the UN nuclear watchdog refused to comment on the report to RFE/RL.

Iranian officials have also not reacted to the report. But Iran had notified the IAEA in late October of its intention to process a new batch of uranium without saying when this would be done.

Mark Fitzpatrick, a senior fellow for nonproliferation with the London-based International Institute For Strategic Studies, say it is still not clear whether Iran has resumed uranium conversion.

“I don’t know that Iran has actually started the next round," he said. "They have announced that they will but my understanding is that they will not actually start it until after the board of governors meet on November 24. I think they are trying to show both that they cannot be pushed around by announcing the next round, but then not actually doing it until after the board meeting in order to buy themselves some more time at the meeting.”

The IAEA board of governors is due to meet in Vienna on 24 November to discuss the latest findings on Iran’s nuclear program, as well as a possible referral of Iran to the UN Security Council.

Key countries, including Russia and China, have been resisting pressure from the U.S. to send Iran’s case to the UN for possible sanctions.

"The Washington Post" writes today that the Bush administration is hoping that the new round of uranium conversion by Tehran might persuade Russia to change its stance.

But Fitzpatrick says Russia and China are still against the referral of Iran to the Security Council, despite “Iran’s noncompromising mood.”

“It looks to me as though the board will not decide anything new," he said. "The action they took in September to find Iran in noncompliance will remain. But I don’t think the board will be reporting Iran to the Security Council this time because the positions of Russia and China have not changed, they oppose sending the issue to the Security Council at this time.”

In September, the IAEA called on Iran to cease all work on nuclear fuel and adopted a resolution, warning Tehran of possible referral to the UN Security Council if it fails to alter its nuclear policy.

The IAEA resolution was issued after Tehran resumed uranium conversion in August. Iran's action also led to the suspension of Iran's talks with the EU and to increasing international pressure on Tehran.

Uranium conversion is an early stage of the nuclear-fuel cycle. It precedes uranium enrichment, a key step toward producing nuclear weapons.

In recent weeks a new offer was made to Iran to end the standoff over the country’s nuclear program. According to the proposal sponsored by Moscow, Iran would be allowed to continue its civilian nuclear program on the condition that all of Iran's uranium enrichment activities are transferred to Russia.

The head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Gholamreza Aghazadeh, rejected the proposal, saying Iran was willing to allow foreign countries to participate in its uranium enrichment program -- but only inside Iran.

Earlier this week agencies reported that IAEA Director Muhammad el-Baradei had thrown his weight behind the proposal, but a planned trip to Tehran has been reportedly postponed.

Tehran says its nuclear program is peaceful. The United States accuses Iran of secretly developing nuclear weapons.

RFE/RL Iran Report

RFE/RL Iran Report

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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.