Iran Restarts Uranium Program

Nuclear negotiator Javad Vaeidi, deputy head of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, said:
Nuclear negotiator Javad Vaeidi, deputy head of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, said: "The order to resume uranium enrichment has been issued." (By Morteza Nikoubazl -- Reuters)
By Molly Moore
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, February 15, 2006

PARIS, Feb. 14 -- Iran announced Tuesday that it had resumed uranium enrichment efforts in defiance of international pressure to curb its nuclear program and said it will no longer comply with voluntary measures designed to enhance international inspectors' access to its nuclear facilities.

"The order to resume uranium enrichment has been issued," Javad Vaeidi, deputy head of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, told reporters in Tehran, according to Iranian news agencies. "The Iranian Atomic Energy Organization has restarted the process."

Monitors from the International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed during inspections Tuesday that Iran had begun the first small-scale steps in the years-long process of enriching uranium that could be used for nuclear power, or eventually weapons production, according to a Western diplomat close to the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency. The diplomat spoke on condition of anonymity because the monitoring team's report will not be released officially for several weeks.

Although Iranian officials said Tuesday that they are years away from being able to produce atomic fuel on an industrial scale, the decision to restart uranium enrichment represents a significant escalation of the political crisis between Tehran and foreign governments.

"They've now walked across the line in such a blatant way that it's hard to see where any other red line could be drawn," said Mark Fitzpatrick, an analyst with the International Institute of Strategic Studies in London and a former U.S. liaison to the IAEA in Vienna. "Now they've done what everybody was afraid of."

Iran's announcements and the IAEA monitoring team's findings increased pressure on the U.N. Security Council to take action against Iran for breaching international agreements on its nuclear program, diplomats in Vienna said.

The 35-member IAEA governing board, which includes the five permanent members of the Security Council, reported "serious concerns" about Iran's nuclear intentions to the Security Council on Feb. 4. Diplomats agreed that the Security Council would not take action until an IAEA board meeting on March 6, when the agency's director general, Mohamed ElBaradei, is scheduled to present an update on Iran's actions.

ElBaradei's report will include the finding of IAEA monitors that Iran last weekend began feeding uranium hexafluoride gas into a handful of centrifuges, which spin the material at supersonic speeds to create enriched uranium, a Vienna-based diplomat said.

"This means the IAEA will have to produce a report that is quite negative with regard to Iran," Fitzpatrick said. "The director general would have been looking to produce a report that described ways in which Iran was cooperating. . . . Iran is not giving ElBaradei anything to work with here."

In Washington, White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Iran was "continuing to choose defiance and confrontation over cooperation and diplomacy."

The IAEA team, after its inspection of Iran's Natanz nuclear facility about 150 miles south of Tehran, reported that Iran is using fewer than five centrifuges, the diplomat said.

Vaeidi, the Iranian national security official, said during comments to reporters Tuesday that Iran needed 60,000 centrifuges for large-scale enrichment, adding, "We need some time to reach that."

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