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. IAEA backs Iran-EU crisis talks, still wants more answers from Tehran
VIENNA (AFP) May 20, 2005
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Friday said it supported the EU-Iran nuclear talks, but diplomats warned it was impatient for more information from Tehran and its member states might refer the matter to the UN Security Council if the talks failed.

"We do support these negotiations," IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming told AFP, but declined to comment on the talks because they were taking place "outside our territory."

Sources said Friday crisis talks between Tehran and the so-called EU-3 of Britain, France and Germany and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, could take place next week in Geneva rather than Brussels as previously planned.

The talks have been prompted by Tehran's recent statements that Iran is set to resume uranium conversion work, a move that would violate a November accord on freezing nuclear fuel work.

Diplomats said the IAEA's 35-member state board of governors wants a commitment from the Islamic state that it will give up its plans.

If it does, the board will choose to read it as a sign that Tehran can be trusted after failing for years to disclose the full nature of its nuclear programme.

The Europeans want a permanent freeze of all nuclear fuel work, and in exchange is offering Iran political and commercial cooperation.

They have warned that if Tehran makes good on its threat to resume conversion, they will push for a Security Council referral, something Washington has long favoured.

Iran has so far agreed to hold off from resuming uranium conversion -- a precursor to the ultra-sensitive enrichment process -- pending the emergency talks.

A diplomat close to the IAEA pointed out Friday that uranium conversion was not the same as uranium enrichment and posed "no immediate threat they they would develop nuclear weapons."

But, he said, it was also true that "the conversion of yellowcake to UF6 has value unless to be used in enrichment centrifuges."

Depending on the level to which uranium has been enriched, it can be used both for civil or military purposes, though Tehran maintains the sole aim of its nuclear programme is to provide an alternative energy source.

Diplomats said the IAEA still wants answers from Tehran on several aspects of the programme, including an explanation for traces of radioactive material found in some of its facilities.

Another issue still troubling the UN nuclear watchdog is plans its inspectors found in for a highly sophisticated P-2 nuclear centrifuge found in Iran.

Tehran said it had not worked on the centrifuges for seven years, but said a diplomat: "The worry is that they are lying ... that they have been working secretly on more developed centrifuges."

Tehran has said its decision to resume activities at Isfahan is "irreversible," and prompted more concern still by refusing IAEA inspectors access to its military site at Parchin.

Washington charges that it is trying to build a detonator a nuclear bomb at the site.

Diplomats say that if Tehran makes up its mind to resume conversion activities, the Islamic state will signal its final decision by informing the IAEA in a letter that it plans to open the seals the body's inspectors placed on their nuclear sites.

If this were to happen and next week's talks were to fail, the Europeans will ask the board of governors to convene immediately, Solana has signalled.

The board could then decide to take the matter to the Security Council, which could impose sanctions on Tehran.

The IAEA board is due to hold its next meeting here on June 13.

Up till now, it has resisted Washington's urging that Tehran be brought before the Council.

But British Prime Minister Tony Blair has now joined sounded a threatening note that he would support such a move if Iran breached its commitments.

According to diplomats in Vienna, there is a "general belief" at the IAEA headquarters that Iran's nuclear programme has reached the stage where it would take the country "three to 10 years to build a nuclear bomb."

All rights reserved. 2005 Agence France-Presse. Sections of the information displayed on this page (dispatches, photographs, logos) are protected by intellectual property rights owned by Agence France-Presse. As a consequence, you may not copy, reproduce, modify, transmit, publish, display or in any way commercially exploit any of the content of this section without the prior written consent of Agence France-Presse.

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