Monday, 13 February 2006, 22:14 GMT
Iran 'resumes' nuclear enrichment
Iran has restarted uranium enrichment work, UN diplomats
They said it had begun feeding uranium gas into centrifuges - a first step in a process that can produce fuel for nuclear reactors or bomb material.
Tehran had warned it would resume enrichment after the UN nuclear watchdog decided to report it to the UN Security Council nine days ago.
Iran has also postponed talks with Russia, due this week, on a proposal to enrich uranium on Russian soil.
International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors are due to visit Iran's Natanz nuclear facility, where Iran's enrichment work is reportedly being carried out, on Tuesday.
According to diplomats in Vienna, home of the IAEA's headquarters, workers at Natanz have begun putting uranium hexafluoride (UF6) gas into a small number of centrifuges used to distil enriched uranium.
· Moscow: Russia-Iran talks on Russia's proposed compromise delayed
· March, Vienna: IAEA to report on Iranian compliance; possible Security Council action to follow
Iran stand-off on new level
Key nations' stance on Iran
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Uranium enriched to a high level can be used to make an atomic
Iran says its research is solely aimed at energy production, but Western powers are concerned that Iran's uranium enrichment programme is part of a plan to acquire nuclear weaponry.
Iranian officials had warned they would restart small-scale uranium enrichment by early March, but they did not specify a date.
The IAEA voted on 4 February to report Tehran to the Security Council over its decision, announced in January, to restart nuclear research.
The nuclear watchdog's board is expected to meet at the beginning of March to consider whether to recommend action on Iran by the council.
On Monday UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said he hoped there would be "no steps taken to escalate the situation".
Speaking after talks with US President George W Bush in the
White House, he urged Iran to "indicate that negotiations
are not dead".
As a means to alleviate the standoff, Russia had proposed that it enrich the uranium on its reactors and then ship the fuel to Iran.
But talks with Russia have been pushed back indefinitely, Iranian presidential spokesman Gholamhossein Elham said.
Russia - which supported the IAEA's decision to refer Iran to the Security Council - said talks could still take place this week.
After the decision, Iran announced it would end its voluntary freeze on full-scale uranium enrichment and would stop allowing snap UN inspections of its nuclear sites.
The move, which could lead to sanctions, has been roundly condemned in Tehran, and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is now threatening to quit the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
The NPT, which has 187 signatories, was created to prevent new nuclear states emerging, to promote co-operation in the peaceful use of nuclear energy and to work towards nuclear disarmament.
Non-nuclear signatories agree not to seek to develop or acquire such weapons. In return, they are given an undertaking that they will be helped to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
It is believed to be the first time Iran has threatened to pull out of the treaty.
Saturday, 4 February 2006, 13:43 GMT
Iran stand-off moves to new level
By Paul Reynolds
World Affairs correspondent, BBC News website
The crisis over Iran's nuclear programme has reached a new level with the reporting of Iran to the Security Council.
Iran has reacted immediately. It said it would withdraw cooperation
over snap inspections, threatened to resume all its enrichment
activities and declared that a potential deal with Russia was
off. That adds to the sense of confrontation.
(Update 5 February: Iran now says that it might talk again with the Russians after all, though whether it is really willing to negotiate remains to be seen.)
The significance of the Security Council move is twofold.
First, the council has the power to impose sanctions. There is therefore the potential for escalation.
Second, the Western powers have managed to get Russia and China
This enables the West to say that this is an international issue - not another Western confrontation with an Islamic country.
However, neither of these two key players is yet on board in terms of agreeing to any measures against Iran and it is not even clear what the Security Council itself might do.
It will certainly do nothing until next month when the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Mohamed ElBaradei makes another report on Iran. That was the compromise agreed by the US, Russia, China, Britain, France, Germany and the EU High Representative at a meeting in London on 30 January.
A great deal depends on that report.
If Mr ElBaradei gives Iran good marks, then Russia and China, who have only reluctantly agreed to the issue being taken to the council at all, will block any suggestion of sanctions.
· 16 Feb, Moscow: Russia and Iran resume talks on Russia's proposed compromise
· March, Vienna: IAEA to report on Iranian compliance; possible Security Council action to follow
Key nations' stance on Iran
If Iran is found wanting, the council might initially issue
some kind of warning that Iran must implement all the IAEA's demands
on inspections. Iran has been dragging its heels on some of these,
especially access to people, places and papers though it has recently
made some further moves to comply.
The latest accusation against Iran from IAEA sources is that it possesses a document that shows how to mould highly enriched uranium into a nuclear warhead. Iran has shown this to the IAEA.
The US and its allies say the document indicates Iran's interest in nuclear weapons but Iran counters that it was simply given the document, unasked for, by the renegade Pakistani nuclear scientist A Q Khan, from whom Iraq once secretly acquired enrichment technology.
The essential point of difference with Iran - whether it should develop its own nuclear fuel cycle - remains.
Nobody knows how to solve this. Iran stands by its right to make its own fuel under the terms of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). All the treaty requires is that the procedure is placed under IAEA inspection. Iran further says that it will not build a bomb and that its supreme religious leader has issued a fatwa to that end.
'Five years away'
But the West does not accept that Iran should be allowed that right, given that it hid an enrichment programme for 18 years and cannot therefore be trusted.
"At some stage of course, the question will arise as
to whether this will move from diplomacy to military action -
nobody knows what the tipping-point might be"
Russia and China appear to be in the middle somewhere, uneasy about Iran but unwilling to press the point too far. Both have commercial interests in Iran. Russia is completing the nuclear reactor that the Germans started under the Shah. China signed a long-term agreement to buy oil and gas from Iran not long ago.
But those interests do not mean that they want Iran to acquire nuclear weapons technology. Russia has offered to enrich fuel for Iran and talks continue on that with some people hoping for a solution along those lines. However Iran has now, for the moment at least, closed the door to that.
The best perhaps that diplomacy can do is delay. Indeed a senior British official with close knowledge of the process is now talking of all this going on for several years.
"Five years ago," he said, "we said that Iran was five years away from being able to make a nuclear weapon. Now we still say that. That is progress."
Mr ElBaradei himself has suggested that Iran freezes its work for 10 years.
Up till now, Iran has been reluctant to go ahead too fast. Its tactics have been characterised by strong rhetoric but tentative actions.
It has held back from abandoning all restraint. It knows that if it did, rougher waters would be ahead. Action by the Security Council could follow.
At some stage of course, the question will arise as to whether this will move from diplomacy to military action. Nobody knows what the tipping-point might be.
British officials say this is "not on the agenda and is not even being discussed".
But with the US and Israel both saying that Iran should not be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon, at some stage it might get onto someone's agenda.
Tuesday, 31 January 2006, 10:06 GMT
Key nations' stances on Iran
The UN's nuclear regulator, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), is holding an emergency meeting on 2 February to discuss Iran's nuclear programme.
At a meeting in London on 30 January, the five permanent members of the Security Council - the US, Russia, China, Britain and France - agreed that the IAEA should report to the council its decisions on steps required of Iran under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
But they agreed that the Security Council itself should wait until March and a further IAEA report on Iran before deciding whether to "reinforce the authority of the IAEA process" - that is, whether to become actively involved. The IAEA agreed in principle last September that the issues fell within the council's authority.
Iran argues that it is now in compliance and should be allowed to make its own fuel under IAEA inspection as permitted under the NPT. It says it has no intention of making nuclear weapons.
Click on the links below to read about the positions taken by key countries on the 35-member IAEA board.
When the IAEA found in a report in November 2003 that Iran
had concealed a programme to enrich uranium for 18 years, the
US argued that it should be reported to the Security Council at
once and that sanctions should be imposed on it.
The US fears that Iran is at least trying to acquire the technology to build nuclear weapons and at worst was caught actually trying to do so. It has said that it is unacceptable for Iran to develop nuclear weapons and has not ruled out any measures, including force.
It held off from pressing its case for sanctions while three European Union countries - the UK, France and Germany - tried to negotiate a voluntary and permanent cessation of all Iranian enrichment activities, and said that if Iran agreed, it would relax some of its own bilateral sanctions and help Iran join the World Trade Organization.
However, these talks have now been suspended because Iran has resumed some enrichment work and the US now believes that the time has come to go to the Security Council.
The UK joined France and Germany in an effort to negotiate
with Iran that it should not develop a fuel enrichment cycle,
in order to give the rest of the world complete confidence that
it was sincere in its declaration that it did not intend to make
a nuclear bomb.
The EU3, as they are called, offered economic incentives and promised to guarantee fuel for the nuclear reactor Russia is building for Iran. Iran agreed to stop all enrichment work while the talks continued but when the work resumed last August, the talks were suspended.
The UK therefore supports reporting Iran to the Security Council. In the first instance this would probably be for a warning but in the final analysis the UK would probably support economic sanctions. The UK is against the use of force, saying that Iran is not like Iraq.
France has adopted a similar position to that of the UK and
Germany. At first it looked as if the EU3 offered a negotiated
"European" solution in contrast to the policies of the
However, these efforts have not led anywhere and France also concludes that Iran must be referred to the Security Council. Like the UK, it holds a veto on the council, and while it is probably even more reluctant to impose sanctions than the UK, it might do so in the end.
A recent speech by President Jacques Chirac, defending French nuclear weapons and saying they could be used to counter terrorist threats, indicates that France is adopting a hard line in defence of its own nuclear posture and does not want Iran to develop its own nuclear technology.
Germany is the third member of the EU3 and its industrial power
added weight to the talks with Iran. It is the largest exporters
of goods to Iran and in a good position to offer incentives and
threaten sanctions. In 2004, German companies exported goods worth
3.6 billion euros ($4.43 billion) and an estimated 4 billion euros
in 2005 to Iran.
Like Britain and France, Germany (which with France opposed the Iraq war) would much prefer a negotiated outcome but, like the others, it too has been disappointed by the outcome of the talks with Iran on enrichment.
It therefore supports the referral of this issue to the Security Council. It voted in September (with Britain and France) that the issue was within the council's competence.
Russia is a vital player. It abstained in the September vote
which declared Iran in violation of its NPT commitments for having
hidden its enrichment work.
It then offered a deal to Iran under which the fuel for Iran's nuclear power programme would be made in Russia with some kind of Iranian involvement. Russia has also guaranteed to provide fuel itself anyway for the reactor it is building for Iran at Bushehr.
Iran rejected the Russian offer at first but has since said it might negotiate, so talks are likely to continue. While they do, Russia might not want a confrontation with Iran. Its veto on the Security Council also puts it in a powerful position.
China abstained in the IAEA vote in September. No country has
a veto on the IAEA but China does have one in the Security Council
and therefore its position is a vital one. So far it has indicated
concern over the issue but opposes sanctions.
China would be reluctant to see any UN measures that prevented access to Iran's oil and gas. It signed an agreement with Iran in 2004 to buy oil and gas over a number of years and it also agreed to help develop an Iranian oil field. China could be a major stumbling block in any attempt by the US to get sanctions imposed.
To general surprise and the anger of its own left wing, the
Indian government voted against Iran in the September IAEA meeting.
The Indians are now coming under pressure from the US to throw
its substantial weight behind a Security Council move.
The US is saying that a nuclear co-operation agreement reached between President George Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last year might fail in the US Congress if India does not support the US in the IAEA. Washington agreed last year to share advanced civilian nuclear technology with Delhi, lifting sanctions triggered by India's nuclear tests in 1998.
On the other hand, India is also aware of its energy interests in Iran and might not want to jeopardise those. The two countries are discussing the construction of a natural gas pipeline from Iran to India.
This is how countries voted in September 2005, when the IAEA
agreed that Iran was in violation of the NPT and that it was a
matter within the competence of the Security Council.
Voting for: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Ecuador, France, Germany, Ghana, Hungary, India, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Netherlands, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Singapore, Slovenia, Sweden, UK, US.
Abstaining: Algeria, Brazil, China, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Tunisia, Vietnam.