Iran Continues Nuclear Work Despite Deadline, Sanction Threat

By Dafna Linzer and Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, February 22, 2007

Despite the threat of new sanctions, Iran is advancing work at its largest nuclear facility and has informed international inspectors in writing that it will not comply with a U.N. order to suspend the program, according to U.S. and European diplomats familiar with the inspectors' latest findings.

The U.N. Security Council on Dec. 23 set a 60-day deadline for the Tehran government to halt its nuclear work. Since then, though, Iran has installed nearly 400 centrifuges, in two separate lines, at its uranium-enrichment facility in the town of Natanz, according to several officials who agreed, on the condition of anonymity, to discuss details from the inspectors' report, which is due today.

The report to the Security Council will confirm, the officials said, that Iran is flouting the council's resolution and moving ahead with its efforts to enrich uranium.

U.S., British and French officials said they will respond to Iran's defiance by pressing for additional economic sanctions, including an enforced travel ban on senior Iranian officials, asset freezes, and an end to government-backed loans and credits. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is scheduled to meet today in Berlin with German, Russian and European colleagues to discuss the possibility of imposing those new sanctions.

"The Iranians have unfortunately not acceded to the international community's demands, and we will have to consult. We will have to decide how to move forward," she told reporters yesterday.

Rice said talks with Iran were possible on the condition that it suspend its nuclear program first.

But diplomats in Washington and at the United Nations acknowledged yesterday that they expect weeks of struggle with Russia, China and members of the European Union, all of which are ready to reopen talks with Iran even if it does not first halt the nuclear program.

"If the intention is to punish the Iranians," said one Chinese diplomat, the Security Council is in for a "long negotiating process."

A senior European diplomat said it is not a foregone conclusion that "we will go down the sanctions lane," adding: "There are quite a number of European Union countries who believe we should go easy because there seems to be an opening on the Iranian side."

The Bush administration has been trying for years to roll back Iran's nuclear advances, choosing sanctions and attempted isolation rather than engaging in direct talks with Tehran. But even with Iran clearly defying a Security Council resolution, other countries are making their own diplomatic gestures in the hopes of curtailing another Middle East crisis.

Senior diplomats from Germany, Switzerland, Russia, Saudi Arabia and China, as well as Mohamed ElBaradei, the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, have all reached out to Iran's senior negotiator, Ali Larijani, in the past two weeks as the deadline for Iranian compliance approached.

The diplomatic impasse dampened the prospects for a swift Security Council reaction to Iran's missed deadline. Ambassador Peter Burian of Slovakia, the council's current president, said it is unlikely that the body will discuss the issue this week.

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