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. Iran to resume uranium enrichment within months: MP
TEHRAN (AFP) Oct 06, 2004
Iran intends to resume the ultra-sensitive process of enriching uranium within months, despite calls from the UN's nuclear watchdog that all fuel cycle work should be halted, a top Iranian MP told AFP.

Kazem Jalali, spokesman for the Iranian parliament's foreign policy and national security commission, was speaking after deputies in the hardline-controlled parliament began a legislative drive to force a resumption of enrichment.

"Why should we not resume enrichment?" he said in an interview late Tuesday.

"Where in the (nuclear) NPT and in the additional protocol does it say that enrichment is forbidden and therefore it should be stopped? It is our natural right."

Under pressure from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Iran agreed to suspend enrichment in October 2003 pending the completion of a probe by United Nations inspectors.

Depending on the level of purification, enriched uranium can be used either as fuel for a civilian reactor or as the explosive core of a nuclear bomb.

Iran says it only wants to generate electricity, and emphasises that enrichment is permitted under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) -- the treaty overseen by the IAEA -- if for peaceful purposes.

"Enrichment is one of the processes in nuclear activity, and it does not mean that it has the sole purpose of being used for non-peaceful activity. You need enriched uranium for fuel for a nuclear plant," Jalali said.

But Iran is still widely suspected of using an atomic energy drive as a cover for weapons development.

And on September 18, the IAEA passed a resolution calling on Iran to "immediately" widen the suspension of enrichment to include all related activities -- such as making centrifuges, converting yellowcake into UF6 feed gas, and constructing a heavy water reactor.

Iran, facing a November 25 deadline, risks being referred to the UN Security Council if it fails to comply.

But deputies in the foreign policy commission are pushing for a resumption of enrichment itself -- a step that would be almost certain to see Iran's case sent to New York.

The move surmounted its first legislative hurdle after winning the backing of the commission. If eventually passed by a Majlis vote and rubber-stamped by legislative watchdogs, the government would be forced to resume enrichment.

But many analysts say parliament's move is more a case of posturing and a means of raising the stakes in the standoff with the IAEA. Perhaps tellingly, the bill was not prioritised for immediate debate in the assembly.

"This bill is an ordinary bill, and it will be dealt with when it is its turn, and I think within a month or 40 days it will be the turn of this bill to be read in the Majlis," said Jalali, a 37-year-old MP from the central city of Shahrud.

"I guess that it would be approved before November 25. After the bill is ratified the government has to implement it. I think it would be within months," he said when asked when enrichment could resume.

The MP also signalled that patience with the IAEA was running out in the parliament, or Majlis, which fell into hardline hands after February's elections -- which most reformists were barred from contesting.

"Iran's case is being treated politically rather than technically. In our neighbourhood there is Pakistan and India doing nuclear tests, and look at the case of North Korea. Why is the United States not being so sensitive about these countries?" Jalali complained.

"The IAEA's inspectors are frequently visiting our sites and report back to the IAEA, but the IAEA's resolution was not based on these reports. This matter needs to be addressed."

And he shrugged off any concern of Iran being referred to the Security Council, where he predicted that reaching a consensus would be even harder than it was over Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction.

"Iran's case is not like Iraq that could be dealt with easily," the MP said.

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