By Ali Akbar Dareini
Monday, August 15, 2005
TEHRAN, Aug. 14 -- Iran urged European governments on Sunday to open discussions about its intention to enrich uranium and dismissed as psychological warfare a veiled Bush administration warning of possible military action against its nuclear operations.
The new Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, meanwhile, named a hard-line cabinet, a move that appeared certain to intensify Iran's confrontation with the West. None of the 21 proposed cabinet members is known to back democratic reforms. The parliament was expected to quickly approve the nominees.
The proposed foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, has criticized Iran's nuclear negotiations with the European Union and has urged the country to adopt a tougher position.
The United States has stood aside while European governments have negotiated with Iran. After prolonged talks with Britain, France and Germany, during which Iran put uranium conversion on hold, Iran this month rejected a package of aid measures, including offers of nuclear fuel in exchange for a promise to abandon plans for uranium enrichment.
Iran then restarted work at its Isfahan plant in central Iran, where uranium is converted to gas -- the last step in processing radioactive ore before it can undergo enrichment to become reactor fuel or the material for nuclear weapons.
The International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, responded with a resolution Thursday urging the Iranians to again put the process on hold. Diplomats familiar with agency's proceedings said Iran was given a Sept. 3 deadline to halt or face possible referral to the U.N. Security Council for consideration of sanctions against its struggling economy.
Iran rejected the resolution, and on Sunday said there was nothing more to talk about on the conversion issue.
"The Isfahan issue is over," Mohammad Saeedi, the deputy head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, told state television. "What is left on the table for discussion is Natanz," where Iran has built a uranium enrichment plant.
"We definitely have plans for Natanz in the near future," Saeedi said, without offering any details.
A Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hamid Reza Asefi, said Iran had not decided to begin uranium enrichment, but added: "Europe's behavior will heavily influence the decision."
While Iran says it would use enriched uranium only to power nuclear reactors for generating electricity, its past concealment of portions of its atomic program has created distrust in the West and strengthened suspicions in the United States that the material is meant for bombs.
President Bush initially had said he was heartened by Iran's hinted readiness for additional talks. But Friday, after Iran became increasingly defiant, Bush said in an interview with Israeli TV that "all options are on the table" if Iran refused to comply with international demands.
That prompted Asefi on Sunday to notch up the rhetoric, warning against any attack.
"I think Bush should know that our options are more numerous than the U.S. options," he said. "If the United States makes such a big mistake, then Iran will definitely have more choices to defend itself."
Asefi offered no specifics but characterized Bush's words as part of a psychological war against Iran.
In Washington, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, backed Bush, saying the United States must keep open a military option.
"For us to say that the Iranians can do whatever they want to do and we won't under any circumstances exercise a military option would be for them to have a license to do whatever they want to do," McCain said on Fox television.