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. Iranians present new nuclear reality, say observers
VIENNA, April 30 (AFP) Apr 30, 2006
The lesson to be drawn from the UN nuclear watchdog report on Iran is that Tehran feels there is a new reality freeing it to enrich uranium and defy UN inspections, analysts and diplomats told AFP.

"The Iranians are presenting the world with a new given on the ground, namely that they are enriching uranium," a diplomat close to the watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said Sunday.

In Washington, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice accused Iran of "playing games" and called on Tehran to come clean and halt uranium enrichment.

Emboldened by their progression from development to actual enrichment under the eyes of IAEA inspectors, the Iranians now think they can dictate their terms on agency inspections, diplomats said in Vienna.

The Iranians have said they will allow tough IAEA inspections if UN sanctions are not levied on them but in no case will they "go back to the status-quo-ante on enrichment," said non-proliferation analyst Gary Samore, a former arms expert in both the Clinton and Bush administrations.

The United States and Europe fear that Iran is using an allegedly peaceful nuclear program to hide the development of atomic weapons and has drawn the line at the enrichment of uranium, which makes fuel for civilian nuclear reactors, but what can also be the explosive core of nuclear bombs.

Iran has defied a UN Security Council injunction to halt all enrichment activities and cooperate with IAEA inspectors trying to determine if the Iranian nuclear program is peaceful, the IAEA said Friday in a report.

US and European diplomats reacted by saying they would push to get a draft resolution before the Council for a legally binding deadline on Iran.

But China and Russia oppose such a move, as it could lead to punitive sanctions or even military action.

The IAEA report said Iran had offered a timetable for cooperation with IAEA inspectors within the next three weeks if the IAEA, rather than the Security Council, oversaw its compliance.

Diplomats described this as a veiled threat that Iran could pull out of the nuclear non-proliferation regime if its atomic ambitions are challenged.

The diplomat close to the IAEA said there were two explanations for the new Iranian pose of defiance, after Tehran had stressed cooperation in the years since the IAEA discovered in 2003 that Iran had been hiding sensitive nuclear activities for almost two decades.

One explanation "is that the Iranians were buying time so that they could enrich and since they've done that now, they can afford to be more cocky".

"The other explanation is that they have a new group in power (hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad)," the diplomat said.

Other diplomats said the Iranians have clearly been racing to get enrichment working at their plant in Natanz so that all future negotiations will have to take this as a given.

Iran announced on April 11 that it had started a 164-centrifuge production line and had enriched uranium up to the level needed for nuclear fuel but not weapons.

David Albright, who runs a think-tank in Washington, said Iran was still at least three years away from making a nuclear weapon but was moving ahead.

Iran is planning to install four new 164-centrifuge cascades in Natanz by August and then move forward to building a 3,000-centrifuge model towards the end of the year, Albright said.

As to inspections, Albright said it is hard to calculate "how fast the IAEA is losing information on the Iranian program."

The IAEA has lost the ability to investigate Iran's undeclared nuclear activities as Tehran stopped applying an Additional Protocol to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) that allows this, once the Security Council on March 29 gave it 30 days to comply with its demands.

The IAEA is limited to safeguards investigations to see if declared nuclear material has been diverted for non-peaceful purposes.

The diplomat said the IAEA is likely to lose even safeguards monitoring if the Security Council imposes sanctions, and that this would be a catastrophe.

"The IAEA is like the ghostbusters in the movie of that name," the diplomat said.

When you want to verify that nuclear proliferation is not taking place, "at the end of the day, who are you going to call, the IAEA guys, no one else," the diplomat said.

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