EU targets Iran nuclear expansion at IAEA meeting

By Mark Heinrich
Reuters
Tuesday, March 6, 2007; 12:56 PM

VIENNA (Reuters) - The European Union plans to tell a U.N. nuclear meeting that Iran's expansion of efforts to enrich uranium, a possible path to atom bombs, is deplorable but a negotiated solution remains possible.

The message was in a statement to be given to a session of the International Atomic Energy Agency's governing body scrutinizing Iran's defiance of U.N. demands.

IAEA director Mohamed ElBaradei, in an unusually tough reference, said on Monday Tehran's persistent failure to open its books to IAEA inquiries into its nuclear activities after hiding them for almost 20 years set it apart from other nations.

To squeeze Iran into shelving its campaign to make nuclear fuel, six world powers on Monday launched a week of negotiations at the United Nations in New York on widening preliminary sanctions adopted in December. But a deal remained elusive due to resistance from Russia and China, big trade partners of Iran.

Iran ignored a February 21 U.N. Security Council deadline to stop refining uranium and took initial steps to shift from research-level enrichment to "industrial-scale" output in a bunker plant fortified against feared U.S. attack.

In Beijing, China's government echoed the EU statement in urging Iran to be transparent with the IAEA but repeated that talks should take precedence over sanctions to rein in Tehran.

Iran rejects Western suspicions that it is trying to master nuclear bomb technology under the cover of a civilian atomic energy program, saying it only wants to generate electricity.

"The EU deplores the fact that Iran ... appears determined to pursue enrichment-related activities on an even larger scale," said the EU statement, expected to be delivered to the board on Wednesday and obtained by Reuters on Tuesday.

DISPUTE OVER IAEA CAMERAS

The EU statement bemoaned Iran's refusal to allow remote camera monitoring by the IAEA in the underground Natanz hall where hundreds of centrifuges have been installed, part of a plan for 3,000 to lay a foundation for fullscale enrichment.

"At the same time (we) reaffirm our continuous support for efforts to find a negotiated solution. A comprehensive offer is still on the table and the door to negotiations remains open."

Iran's nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, was quoted by semi-official Mehr news agency as warning Western powers not to try to coerce Tehran through harsher sanctions or other action.

"We prefer to solve this issue through negotiations and not fake ones (talks), but if they choose an extreme way they will definitely get a firm response," he said.

"Definitely, passing another (U.N.) resolution ... will have an impact on many issues," he told ISNA news agency.

To defuse the crisis, the six world powers last June offered Iran major trade benefits but the proposal has gone nowhere in part because of their precondition, rejected by Tehran, that it freeze its nuclear energy program first.

A declaration prepared by Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) developing nations on the board noted that inspectors had not found proof of diversions into bombmaking in Iran.

"NAM calls on all parties concerned to exercise patience and restraint and not resort to action which may escalate ... and create unnecessary confrontation," it said, alluding to fears of a spiral toward war between Iran and arch-foe the United States.

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