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. Defiant Iran prepares to resume nuclear work
TEHRAN (AFP) Aug 01, 2005
Iran on Monday defiantly took the first steps towards a resumption of sensitive nuclear work which risks plunging talks with the European Union into crisis and exposing Tehran to UN Security Council action.

Iran handed over a letter to the International Atomic Energy Agencythat formally notified the UN watchdog of the imminent resumption of uranium ore conversion, the precursor to enrichment in the nuclear fuel cycle.

It then announced that in coordination with inspectors from the IAEA it was making the initial preparations to remove the seals placed on a plant in the city of Isfahan and then resume conversion activities after a nine month suspension.

The Islamic republic has yet to announce that production has started -- something it had originally said would take place Monday -- but emphasised the initial steps were mere formalities and there was no going back.

"Inspectors from the IAEA are working, controlling (surveillance) cameras and making their own controls so that the seals can be removed," nuclear negotiator Ali Agha Mohammadi said on state television.

"When their work is completed this will mean that the (uranium conversion) plant at Isfahan will restart. It is routine and practical work but from our point of view Isfahan is already back online."

Tehran's decision, which jeopardises months of tortuous talks with European Union countries aimed at saving Iran from UN Security Council sanctions, immediately aroused expressions of grave concern from the international community.

"If Iran does not go back on its choice we will then have to demand an exceptional meeting of the IAEA council of governors," said French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste Blazy.

"If despite this Iran carries on we will need to go to the Security Council," he added.

The United States, which accuses Iran of seeking to develop a nuclear weapon, lost no time in reaffirming its threat to go to the Security Council. "If they're not going to abide by their agreement and obligations, then we would have to look to the Security Council," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.

IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei urged Iran to halt its unilateral move, which comes just three days before hardline president Mahmood Ahmadinejad takes office, calling on Tehran "to continue the negotiation process."

A letter from Iran given to the IAEA in Vienna complained that Europe has dallied too long in coming up with concrete proposals for a nuclear cooperation deal, adding that it had reason to believe that the eventual offer would be "totally unacceptable".

Iranian politicians have for once united in support of their country's right to nuclear power, which has become an issue of national pride and compared to the nationalisation of the oil industry by prime minister Mohammad Mossadegh in 1953.

Both conversion and enrichment activity were suspended by Iran last November for the duration of talks with the European Union on providing guarantees that its nuclear programme is exclusively civil.

In Berlin, a foreign ministry spokesman said the European Union would be making its offer in the next days. "In this context, a resumption of uranium conversion would be a completely unnecessary step ... But now it is up to Iran not to miscalculate."

Iran had warned on Sunday that it would resume conversion work if the EU failed by Monday to come up with its package of trade and security incentives, a timetable which the European countries said never existed.

However, the letter handed over by Iran did not close the door on further talks and pledged to maintain its current suspension of uranium enrichment.

"Iran wants to ensure that no effort is spared in order to reach a negotiated resumption of its enrichment activities. It is therefore, prepared to continue in good faith and in an expeditious and result-oriented manner."

Iran has always insisted that conversion -- the process by which uranium ore is converted into a gas for use as a feedstock for enrichment -- is separate and less sensitive than the latter process.

But the European Union had made clear that it regards all parts of fuel cycle as equally sensitive.

An IAEA spokesman said it would take at least 72 hours to convene a session of the agency's 35-nation board of governors, which could then send the Iranian dossier to the Security Council.

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