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Iran: Tehran Issues New Nuclear Deadline

By Golnaz Esfandiari

Iran said earlier today that it would wait until this afternoon to receive fresh European proposals for resolving the dispute over Tehran's controversial nuclear program. Otherwise, it said, it would resume nuclear work at Isfahan's uranium-conversion plant today. Iran said it has decided to take the step because the EU countries failed to meet a deadline for submitting their proposals. France today said Iran's threat was "unacceptable." Yesterday, EU officials warned Tehran that such a move could make further talks difficult.

Prague, 1 August 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Iran said that if the EU did not submit its package of proposals by this afternoon, it was ready to restart some sensitive nuclear activities, although not uranium enrichment.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told reporters today in Tehran that "this is the last day that the Europeans can offer their proposals."

Iran set a similar deadline yesterday, but it was not met by the three EU countries -- France, Germany, and Great Britain -- that have been engaged in nuclear talks with Iran.

Asefi said yesterday that the EU must come up with an acceptable set of proposals on how to end the diplomatic stalemate.

"We [will] restart some nuclear activities at the Isfahan uranium-conversion facilities (UCF)," Asefi said. "But we continue suspensions of uranium enrichment. And also, we will not start activities at the Natanz site. But we will restart activities at the Isfahan UCF. And we are ready to continue talking with the Europeans on other issues. We said clearly in London, that the final date [for new proposals] is Monday (Aug. 1, 2005) for us. If the European trio has other proposals, we won't accept them. We have a clear strategy. If we received European proposals and IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] inspectors also start supervising our facilities in Isfahan site, we will start some activities in Isfahan UCF."

A British Foreign Ministry spokesman yesterday said that such a move by Tehran would make negotiations very difficult to continue.

Gary Samore the director of studies at the International Institute For International Studies (IISS) told RFE/RL that Iran is trying to put as much pressure as it can on the EU. He said the restarting of the conversion process could have significant political implications.

“It only produces feed material for enrichment, so by itself the facility can’t produce any material that can be used in nuclear weapons; but from a political standpoint, it's very sensitive because the Europeans convinced Iran to accept a suspension on its conversion activities last November and the Europeans had made it clear that any break in the suspension would break the November agreement and the European would then end the talks and support the referral of Iran to the Security Council," Samore said. "So technically its not very significant, politically it is very significant.”

Iran suspended all uranium enrichment related activities in November as part of its negotiations with the EU. The EU promised a package of incentives to Iran in return Teheran's committmeant to forgo the production of materials that could be used in nuclear weapons. Since then, Iranian officials have said several times that the suspension is only temporary and that Iran will not give up its “undisputable” right to peaceful nuclear activities including uranium enrichment.

Iran’s outgoing president, Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami, said on 27 July that Iran would reject a permanent suspension of activities related to uranium enrichment.

"They [Europeans] accepted to present their comprehensive plan by the end of July or in the beginning of August," Khatami said. "We had presented our plan and we were waiting for them to offer their plan. We told them then that if the freeze of [uranium] enrichment was included in the plan, it would be rejected."

Enriched uranium can be used to fuel civilian power stations but also to produce nuclear weapons.

Yesterday, Britain said that Iran had been informed "full and detailed proposals" aimed at resolving the standoff over its nuclear program would be made in one week.

The package will reportedly include major security assurances, economic cooperation, and a guaranteed fuel supply so that Iran will not need to enrich its own uranium.

"The Washington Post," quoting U.S. diplomats, writes today that the offer hase won cautious support from the Bush administration.

Iran's state media quoted Hassan Rohani, the country's top nuclear negotiator, as saying the deal was expected to include "guarantees about Iran's integrity, independence, [and] national sovereignty" as part of a no-aggression pact.

Observers said Iran’s latest threat could lead to an escalation of the dispute.

Samore from the IISS said that if Iran carried out its threat, the talks between EU and Iran wouldcollapse.

“The IAEA Board of Governors have passed six resolutions -- by consensus -- calling on Iran to accept a suspension of certain nuclear activities," Samore said. "So if Iran ignores those six resolutions and resume nuclear activity like conversion, then I’m very confident that the IAEA will refer Iran to the Security Council.”

The EU has said that if Iran went ahead and resumed work, then it would urgently consult the board of the IAEA.

Iran says its nuclear program is aimed solely at peaceful purposes. But U.S. officials have accused Iran of pursuing a clandestine nuclear-weapons program.

Copyright (c) 2005. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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