9 January 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Iranian officials confirmed today that the country will resume some nuclear research and development activities under the supervision of the IAEA.
"This nuclear research is not illegal," government spokesman Gholam Hossein Elham said in making the announcement. "The suspension of [nuclear fuel research] was a voluntary issue. We have announced this to the [IAEA] and research activities will resume today, with the presence of representatives of the agency, as scheduled."
Iran told the IAEA in early January that it would resume research on 9 January, without specifying the nature or extent of the research and development activities it planned to resume. The IAEA has sought clarifications, but Iranian officials failed to appear for a recent meeting in Vienna to give more information about their decision.
Iran voluntarily suspended all uranium enrichment related activities in 2004 as a confidence-building measure during negotiations with EU countries. The talks, however, broke off in August after Tehran resumed uranium conversion.
Shannon Kile is a senior nonproliferation expert at the Stockholm International Peace Institute. He told RFE/RL that Iran seems to be testing the international reaction.
"What's interesting is that Iran has never specified what specific research and development activities it’s going to resume, beginning today, and I have to wonder myself whether Iran has actually decided -- to some extent it may be attempting to test the reaction of the international community and [it] is trying in a peaceful manner to move towards having a full uranium enrichment program," Kile said.
Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said on 8 January that Tehran has the right to resume suspended nuclear-fuel research activities and other countries should not be worried.
"What we are doing in [research and development] is according to the [IAEA's] regulations and also the NPT [Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty], and we believe the Western countries should not seek to [use] a double standard in this respect," Asefi said. "That is our right and our activities are under the supervision of the [International] Atomic Energy Agency. Therefore, there is nothing to be worried [about]."
But despite such assurances, Tehran's latest decision has increased Western concern over Iran's nuclear program.
Iran says its nuclear activities are peaceful, but Washington accuses Iran of secretly seeking to develop nuclear weapons.
The United States has warned Iran that it might seek to refer Tehran to the UN Security Council for possible discussion of sanctions if nuclear research resumes.
The EU has expressed "serious concern" over Tehran's move and said it finds it "surprising and unreasonable" that Iran has decided to take such a step at a moment when "Britain, France, and Germany with the EU were exploring with Iran the possibility of a return to negotiations."
The head of the IAEA, Mohammad el-Baradei, said in a British television interview due to be broadcast today that the world community is running out of patience over Iran's lack of transparency on its nuclear program.
Analyst Kile said Iran's latest move indicates that it is determined to have a domestic uranium-enrichment capability. Enriched uranium can be used as fuel in civil reactors or as an ingredient for the production of nuclear bombs.
"Now, the European Union and Britain, France, and Germany in particular have said this is the final red line that they cannot accept, that's also the position of the United States, and those parties are now consulting about whether to take it to the UN Security Council or, more to the point, what sort of sanctions might be applied there," Kile said. "The question is whether key member states on the Security Council such as Russia and China will go along with the tougher approach."
China and Russia have in the past resisted any move to refer Tehran's nuclear activities to the UN Security Council for discussion.
Russia, Iran's main nuclear partner, is currently engaged in talks with Tehran over a compromise solution to end the dispute over uranium enrichment.
Under Moscow's proposal, Tehran will carry out uranium enrichment on Russian territory to allay Western fears that Iran could use the technology to produce a nuclear bomb.
A second day of talks in Tehran on 8 January between Iranian and Russian officials on the compromise deal ended with both sides reaching "some understandings." Further talks are expected in Moscow on 16 February.