Iran ignores Security Council demand on enrichment

VIENNA (AP) — A defiant Iran continued to enrich uranium up to two days before the UN Security Council’s deadline Thursday for Tehran to freeze such activity or face the threat of sanctions, UN and European officials said Wednesday.

Iran theoretically could still announce a full stop to enrichment before today’s  ultimatum, but that appeared unlikely as in the past Tehran has refused repeatedly to consider a halt. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said Iran was enriching small quantities of uranium as late as Tuesday.

Iran’s refusal to heed the Security Council up to now will be detailed in an IAEA report to be completed Thursday and circulated among the Vienna-based agency’s 35 board member nations. The report will also include new details on Tehran’s research into advanced enrichment equipment, and other points, said diplomats accredited to the agency.

The report, scheduled to go also to the Security Council, could trigger council members to actively consider economic and political sanctions. Russia and China, however, were likely to resist US-led efforts for a quick response, which likely means sanctions do not loom immediately.

An earlier resolution on Iran took weeks for the Security Council members to negotiate, as did talks over a weaker council statement earlier this year demanding that Iran suspend enrichment.

The US ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, said Tuesday that the US had not yet decided how it would respond once the August 31 deadline expired. He reiterated, however, that Washington would seek sanctions if Iran disregarded the resolution.

“We’ve made it very clear, unless we get an unequivocal acceptance of that condition in the Security Council resolution, that sanctions would follow,” Bolton said.

Even Moscow and Beijing, which have traditional economic and strategic ties with Tehran, are increasingly vexed at what world powers consider Iranian intransigence on enrichment —  a process that generates both nuclear energy and creates the fissile core of warheads.

In another sign of Iran’s willingness to confront the international community, a senior European government said Tehran had not responded to a recent EU offer on behalf of the five Security Council members plus Germany to discuss Tehran’s terms for new nuclear talks. Such behaviour would likely strengthen Washington’s push to move more quickly towards economic sanctions.

IAEA inspectors remained in Iran on Wednesday, gathering information to go into Thursday’s restricted report. While their most recent findings were not available by Wednesday afternoon, a senior UN official said that Iranian centrifuges were enriching small quantities of uranium gas as late as Tuesday. Iran insists it has a right to enrich for what it says is a future nuclear power programme. The concern, however, is that Tehran could misuse the technology to aim for material enriched to the level required for weapons.

The United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany offered Iran on June 1 a package of technological and political incentives in exchange for a commitment from Tehran to freeze enrichment before talks began.

Tehran’s response August 21 has been characterised by heads of governments and senior diplomats as inadequate because it makes no mention of any willingness to suspend enrichment before talks, let alone consider a long-term moratorium on such activity. Senior diplomats have told the AP it will be rejected.

Senior EU foreign policy official Javier Solana has, nevertheless, offered to meet with Iranian nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani to explore if there is common ground, the diplomats said. But up to now Iran has snubbed that overture, a senior European official said from outside Vienna.

A European official in another capital agreed: “Nothing has moved over the past few days.” The IAEA report will contain other information the US and its allies would likely seize on, diplomats said, including confirmation that IAEA inspectors were recently refused onsite inspections of a vast underground facility being built at Natanz to house up to 54,000 centrifuges, which spin uranium gas into enriched material. While Tehran’s centrifuge programme is hamstrung by technical problems, the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security has suggested that — if it were interested in producing bombs — Iran could create a basic small plant of 1,500 centrifuges to make enough bomb fuel for one weapon within three years.

For now, Iran’s known enrichment capabilities consist of 164 centrifuges connected in series or a “cascade,” at its surface pilot plant at Natanz, which has been used to turn out small quantities of low-enriched uranium. But the report will reveal new details of the country’s centrifuge programme, including confirmation from Larijani that scientists are doing computer-based research on a more advanced type of centrifuge that works faster and turns out larger quantities of enriched uranium.

The report will also focus on lack of progress in investigating suspicious findings, due to Iran’s refusal to provide information, on issue including diagrams showing how to mold fissile uranium into the shape of warheads.

Iran has been under IAEA investigation since 2003, with inspectors turning up evidence of clandestine plutonium experiments, black market centrifuge purchases and links to the military of what Iran says is a civilian nuclear programme.

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