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Iran Heads For Showdown In Nuclear Row

Iran's nuclear power plant, Bushehr.
by Staff Writers
Tehran, Iran (AFP) Aug 25, 2006
Iran appeared headed for a showdown at the UN Security Council next week over its nuclear programme, facing the threat of sanctions after refusing to freeze sensitive fuel cycle work. Western nations reacted coolly to Iran's response to an offer by the five permanent Security Council members and Germany of incentives in return for a halt to uranium enrichment.

Iran's approach was based on "removal of the other side's concerns along with preservation of Iran's rights," chief Iranian negotiator Ali Larijani was quoted as saying by official media Thursday.

"We are ready to reach an understanding in constructive and serious talks."

The United States has already said the initial response fell short of UN demands, Germany described it as unsatisfactory and France insisted Tehran immediately suspend nuclear activities.

In contrast, China and Russia have appealed for a peaceful solution to the standoff.

The Security Council adopted a resolution last month giving Iran until August 31 to freeze its uranium enrichment programme or face sanctions.

The US State Department said Washington was consulting with fellow Security Council members after Tehran declined to announce a moratorium on enrichment.

"We acknowledge that Iran considers its response as a serious offer, and we will review it," spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos said.

"The response, however, falls short of the conditions set by the Security Council, which require the full and verifiable suspension of all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities," he said.

On Thursday, IRNA quoted Larijani as saying: "We have responded to all the important issues proposed in the package with a serious and just attitude, including Iran's duties and rights under the NPT" or nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to which Tehran has adhered.

The United States and other powers suspect the nuclear programme is a smokescreen for an attempt to produce a bomb. Enrichment can make fuel for nuclear power stations or be extended to create the core of atomic weapons.

However, Iran, the world's fourth-largest oil producer, insists it is purely for peaceful power generation and that it has the right to the technology as an NPT signatory.

(In Paris, an Iranian opposition group announced that Tehran has assembled and is testing 15 so-called P2 centrifuges, which can speed up enrichment.)

(Mohammad Mohadessin, of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, told a press conference the test site was off a main road northeast of Tehran).

In Tehran, Larijani said Iranian officials had addressed regional security concerns by the six world powers and was now waiting in turn for their response.

"Considering the critical conditions of the region, Iran is ready to help with stable peace in the region under a just mechanism," he said.

Government spokesman Gholamhossein Elham declined on Wednesday to say whether Iran might accept a short-term suspension of its nuclear programme.

"Nothing has changed. We will continue our research activities, but we want understanding and dialogue," he had said.

The Islamic republic has also been flexing its military might during nationwide war games it says demonstrate it can respond to "any threat."

France insisted future talks would depend on a freeze.

"Our hand is still extended. The Iranians know the rules of the game: first a suspension of sensitive nuclear activities," Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said "we are still reviewing (Iran's response) but from everything I hear we cannot be satisfied with it.

"It does not state what we expect -- namely 'we are suspending uranium enrichment, coming to the negotiating table and will speak about the opportunities and possibilities for Iran'. That is unfortunately not the case."

Russia, which is building Iran's first nuclear power plant at Bushehr, said it would continue to press for a political solution and wanted to keep the UN nuclear watchdog -- not the Security Council -- at the centre of the process.

China's special envoy to the Middle East, Sun Bigan, said Beijing sought a "peaceful settlement rather than resorting to force or threatening sanctions".

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan was expected to travel to Tehran next week.

As the Security Council deadline neared, International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors were in the final stages of preparing a report on Iran's uranium enrichment work.

IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei is to report back to the Security Council on Iran's compliance and if it is deemed to have failed, the Council will consider adopting "appropriate measures" under Article 41 of Chapter Seven of the UN Charter, which sets out enforcement powers.

But an Iranian news agency reported that Iran would soon announce a breakthrough which would "highlight its mastery of different areas in nuclear science and reinforce Iran's position as a nuclear country".

In Washington, a congressional committee warned of "significant" gaps in US intelligence on Iran, a scenario it said precluded confident assessments on Tehran's suspected weapons of mass destruction programmes.

Details of Iranian nuclear response

Iran is seeking time guarantees on getting benefits, such as light-water reactors, with its response to the international offer over its nuclear ambitions, two experts on Iran said in a report published on the Internet.

"Iran wants firm guarantees on the proposed offers of nuclear assistance, such as the sale of light water reactors to Iran, as well as a secured nuclear fuel supply," Abbas Maleki and Kevah Afrasiabi said on the web site.

Their comments are apparently the first to give details on Iran's response Tuesday to an offer from six world powers of negotiations on trade, technology and security benefits if Iran freezes its strategic nuclear fuel work.

World leaders have said however that Iran's response is unsatisfactory.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Thursday: "It does not state what we expect -- namely 'we are suspending uranium enrichment, coming to the negotiating table and will speak about the opportunities and possibilities for Iran'. That is unfortunately not the case."

A senior European diplomat, who saw the confidential Iranian response to the package from Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States, said Iran had "not said 'no' to the offer but did say 'no' to suspending enrichment," the process that makes nuclear reactor fuel but also atom bomb material.

The United States charges that Iran's nuclear program is a smokescreen for an attempt to produce a bomb but Iran insists its atomic drive is a peaceful effort to generate electricity.

Maleki, director of the International Institute for Caspian Studies in Tehran, and Afrasiabi, a political scientist who has also taught in Tehran, said: "It will be a pity if Washington overlooks this opportunity for a fair negotiation with Iran, especially considering the details of Iran's response."

They said Iran would "seriously entertain suspending the fuel cycle if and when it feels vindicated as a matter of principle."

But a diplomat closely following the issue said the problem is that the Iranians are saying, "'Let's talk and then we might suspend enrichment' while the international powers want Iran to suspend and then hold talks."

The United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution last month giving Iran until August 31 to freeze its uranium enrichment program or face sanctions.

The two academics said that if there is a move towards sanctions after August 31 "despite the positive dimensions of Iran's offer, the stage will be set for a full-scale international crisis."

Maleki and Afrasiabi said Iran had complained in its response that the incentives package mentioned Tehran's obligations under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) but did not assert Iran's right under that treaty to "acquire nuclear technology," and so to enrich uranium.

According to the two academics, Iran also wants:

-- Clarification about whether the United States is willing to lift sanctions on "nuclear and technological assistance to Iran."

-- Clarification on Iran getting regional security guarantees.

-- A specific "timeline on the promised incentives, including the economic and trade incentives."

The two academics also said that "Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani has declared Iran's willingness to use its influence in Lebanon for an Israeli-Hezbollah prisoners exchange, reminding the world of Iran's stabilizing role."

Source: Agence France-Presse

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