August 9, 2005
Atomic Activity Resumes in Iran Amid Warnings
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By NAZILA FATHI and JOEL BRINKLEY
TEHRAN, Aug. 8 - Iran resumed sensitive nuclear activities at one of its
facilities on Monday, despite warnings from European negotiators that the
move would prompt them to refer the case to the United Nations Security
Council for punitive action.
With surveillance cameras from the International Atomic Energy Agency
installed, Iranian technicians at a facility outside Isfahan resumed the
intricate process of converting uranium that Iran says is intended to yield
energy but that the West worries is a precursor to the development of
The United States and its European allies reacted with dismay to the renewed
activity, and left little doubt that they would take Iran to the Security
Council with a recommendation for economic sanctions if Iran does not back
The State Department even held out the possibility that the United States
might deny a visa to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was sworn in Saturday as
Iran's president, to attend the United Nations General Assembly in New York
Iran has long contended that it has the legal right under the Nuclear
Nonproliferation Treaty to convert and enrich uranium for peaceful energy
purposes, but agreed to suspend its activities as long as negotiations
lasted with Britain, France and Germany over its nuclear program. Iran has
admitted to deceiving inspectors for 17 years about many of its activities,
and the United States argues that those deceptions effectively negate its
right to a full nuclear program and that they provide a basis for
Concerned that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons, European negotiators put
forward a proposal last week - with the support of the United States - to
provide Iran with economic, technological, security and political incentives
if it permanently abandoned its conversion and enrichment activities.
But Iran rejected the proposal, saying the offer failed to meet its "minimum
expectations." Even before rebuffing the offer, Iran had asked the agency to
set up cameras at the facility so that it could resume its nuclear program
under international inspection, as the nonproliferation treaty requires.
Mohammad Saidi, vice president of Iran's Atomic Organization, who was at the
facility near Isfahan on Monday, said that Iran would like to continue
negotiating with Europe and that it intended to keep its freeze on nuclear
Yet the facility began an earlier stage of the process, known as conversion,
the official Iranian news agency, IRNA, reported. Converting uranium can
lead to energy production or, ultimately, nuclear weapons.
The French foreign minister, Philippe Douste-Blazy, called the Iranian
actions "a grave crisis." Gerhard Schröder, the German chancellor, told ARD
television that the nuclear issue "will end up at the Security Council if
Iran does not give in."
European diplomats said Iran would be presented with an ultimatum during a
meeting of the agency's board of governors in Vienna on Tuesday: Cease the
uranium conversion, or face sanctions. Although no timetable has been set
for a response, officials and diplomats said the issue would probably be
taken up during the United Nations meeting in September.
The three European nations that have been negotiating with Iran for two
years, along with the European Union, threatened last week to end the talks
should Iran resume its nuclear development. The European diplomats said they
would follow through on that threat if Iran did not respond positively to
the last-chance ultimatum that is to be issued after the meeting in Vienna.
"It definitely will end the negotiations," a European diplomat said. He and
others declined to be identified before a formal position is taken at the
A senior Bush administration official said the United States would support a
motion for United Nations sanctions, should Iran not back down. Adam Ereli,
a State Department spokesman, said "this is Iran thumbing its nose at a
productive approach" by the Europeans. "We'll have to work together to take
Uranium conversion involves turning mined uranium, known as yellowcake, into
a gas known as uranium tetrafluoride, or UF4. The gas is then turned into
uranium hexafluoride, or UF6, which can be fed into centrifuges for
enrichment. The process can lead to making nuclear fuel or, if enriched to
high levels, weapons.
The Iranian news agency reported that yellowcake was injected into the
equipment for making UF4 on Monday. It also said the rest of the facility
would be operational after the agency's inspectors removed the seals at
other sections and installed the cameras.
Iran's action on Monday was largely symbolic - the conversion of raw uranium
into gas is many steps removed from making a weapon, and Iran says it
possesses uranium in gas form - but it poses both a short- and long-term
challenge to Europe and the Bush administration.
The immediate challenge is to determine if the European nations and the
United States can now win over enough members of the agency's board to refer
Iran to the Security Council for possible sanctions. It is a risky political
effort, both because the agency's board might balk, and because Iran has
threatened to pull out of the nonproliferation treaty if it is subjected to
sanctions. North Korea did exactly that two and a half years ago.
The longer-term challenge is to President Bush's effort to ensure that no
new nations are allowed to produce enriched uranium or to reprocess
plutonium, the two routes to making a nuclear bomb. In essence, Mr. Bush
wants to break the "nuclear fuel cycle," the ability of a country to produce
its own nuclear fuel, which could then be used for either civilian or
military purposes. For that reason, the United States refused last week to
go along with demands by North Korea that it be allowed to retain a nuclear
Iran has a large reactor under construction, though Washington has prevailed
on Russia to take back the spent fuel that it sells to Iran. If that plan
works, the fuel would not be available for bomb-making.
Iran argues that under the nonproliferation treaty it has a right to a
civilian nuclear power program, and it points out that no one has ever
proved that it is seeking to produce a nuclear weapon.
If the United States denies a visa for Mr. Ahmadinejad, the State Department
said, it would be as much for his possible role in the taking of American
hostages in Tehran in 1979 as for Iran's nuclear activities today. Thus far,
the government has found no evidence to support the hostages' allegations
that he was among their captors.
Mr. Ahmadinejad is planning to address the United Nations General Assembly
to discuss Iran's nuclear program and other foreign policy issues, the
Iranian news agency Fars reported.
A spokesman for the Supreme National Security Council said Monday that Mr.
Ahmadinejad appointed a conservative politician to replace Hassan Rowhani, a
pragmatic negotiator who led the talks with Europe for two years.
The new lead negotiator, Ali Larijani, was a security adviser to Iran's
supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Last year he described
Iran's decision to freeze its nuclear activities while it tried to reach a
settlement with Europe as "trading a pearl for a lollipop."
Analysts in Tehran linked Iran's decision to resume work at the facility
with the new president's policies.
"It seems that Mr. Ahmadinejad's team wants to reject the past policies in
the first week that it is taking office," said Mohammad Hafezian, a
political analyst in Tehran.
The previous team, he added, "would not have started work so unexpectedly
and without coordination with the international community."
Nazila Fathi reported from Tehran for this article, and Joel Brinkley from
Washington. David E. Sanger contributed reporting from Aspen, Colo.