VIENNA (AP) â€” Iran faced a deadline Saturday to freeze work that could enable it to make an atomic weapon.
European Union representatives warned Tehran had just weeks before a likely referral to the UN Security Council.
The probability of Security Council action grew after an IAEA report revealed Friday that Tehran had pumped out about seven tonnes of the gas it needs for uranium enrichment since restarting the conversion process last month.
Key European nations had awaited the results of the report, setting Saturday as an informal deadline for Tehran to reimpose its freeze or face the threat of referral to the Council.
Diplomats from EU countries accredited to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said talks with other members of the 35-nation IAEA board of governors geared at finding consensus on referral would begin Monday in Vienna.
They said that as a September 19 board meeting grows closer, ministers, including US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and EU counterparts from France, Germany and Britain will likely get involved in drafting the language of a resolution demanding that the Security Council deal with Iran’s refusal to stop uranium conversion, a precursor to uranium enrichment.
A senior US diplomat said Iran’s choices were narrowing. “Unless Iran stops its conversion, cooperates fully with the IAEA and returns to the European Union (EU) negotiating table, the board should report this matter to the UN Security Council,” he said.
A Vienna-based European diplomat said the EU felt betrayed by Iran’s move.
“The Iranians have destroyed the basis for dialogue,” he said.
The diplomats â€” who demanded anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss the Iran game plan with the media â€” said Tehran could still avoid referral by reimposing a freeze on such activities before the start of the board meeting.
That appeared unlikely, however.
Iranian state television on Friday cited Ali Larijani, Iran’s point-man on nuclear issues, as saying his country would “confine its cooperation with the IAEA (only according) to IAEA regulations and to defined international agreements.” Iran argues that it is not breaking international law by carrying out activities linked to uranium enrichment and insists its intentions are only to generate nuclear power.
The newly-released report, prepared by IAEA chief Mohammed Baradei, revealed the amount produced of uranium hexafluoride, the gaseous feed stock that is spun by centrifuges into enriched uranium. Depending on the level of enrichment, that substance can be used either as a source of power or as the core of nuclear weapons.
The document did not make a determination on whether Iran was pursuing a nuclear weapon.
But David Albright, a former IAEA nuclear inspector, said that â€” were Tehran to use the material for weapons purposes â€” the amount already produced, about seven tonnes, would suffice for one atomic bomb.
Tehran last month rejected economic and other incentives offered by Britain, France and Germany â€” negotiating on behalf of the EU â€” and resumed uranium conversion.
Iran argues that it has a right to enrichment for peaceful purposes. The Europeans say Tehran broke its word by unilaterally resuming conversion while still negotiating with them on ways to reduce international suspicions about its nuclear agenda.
If Iran is hauled before the Security Council, it, in turn, could impose sanctions â€” although members China and Russia are believed to oppose such a move. At a minimum, the issue would receive world attention if debated by the UN’s top body.
“China and Russia remain to be convinced,” along with nonaligned board members said the diplomat. Still, he said the Europeans, Americans and their allies were ready this time to take the issue to a vote at the board meeting, although such gatherings usually take decisions by consensus.
Friday’s IAEA report also said that despite more than 2 1/2 years of investigation, questions remain about key aspects of Iran’s 18 years of clandestine nuclear activity and that it still was unable “to conclude that there are no undeclared nuclear materials or activities in Iran.” “Iran’s full transparency is indispensable and overdue,” said the confidential document obtained by the Associated Press. Among the unanswered questions, according to the report, were gaps in the documented development of Iran’s centrifuge programme used in uranium enrichment â€” and in what was received, and when, from the black market network headed by the Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan.
Overall, the report confirmed recent revelations that most of the traces of weapons-grade uranium were imported to Iran on equipment from Pakistan that it bought on the black market â€” even though it said it was not possible to determine the origins of other traces enriched to less than weapons grade.
That finding hurts US arguments that the traces were likely the result of enrichment done in Iran, as part of a secret programme to make nuclear weapons. Still, the senior US diplomat told the AP the report’s other findings “confirm our concern that Iran is proceeding with a nuclear weapons programme.”