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Iran 'determined' to pursue enrichment

With the world watching its every nuclear step, Iran on Tuesday declared it is "determined" to pursue all legal areas of nuclear technology, including uranium enrichment.
/ Source: The Associated Press

With the world watching its every nuclear step, Iran declared Tuesday that it is determined to pursue all legal areas of nuclear technology, including uranium enrichment.

Addressing a U.N. conference on the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said his government is “eager” to provide guarantees that its nuclear-fuel program will serve only peaceful purposes, as sought in talks with European governments.

Washington contends Iran’s uranium enrichment program is aimed at building nuclear weapons, and President Bush has proposed banning such technology to all but those countries that already have it. Enriched uranium also can be used to generate electricity, which Iran says is its only aim.

“It is unacceptable that some tend to limit the access to nuclear technology to an exclusive club of technologically advanced states under the pretext of nonproliferation,” Kharrazi said.

He also told delegates from more than 180 nations that the United States and other nuclear-weapons states should make legally binding assurances to non-nuclear states like Iran that they will not be subject to nuclear attack.

The U.S. and other nuclear arsenals are “the major sources of threat to global peace and security,” Kharazzi said. He called on the conference to begin negotiation of a treaty requiring nuclear powers to guarantee non-nuclear states like Iran against nuclear attack.

No enrichment while talks continue
In Tehran, meanwhile, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said Tuesday the government would resume some nuclear activities — but not uranium enrichment as long talks continue with European governments to resolve the dispute.

France, Britain and Germany, acting on behalf of the 25-nation European Union, are seeking guarantees from Iran that it will not use its nuclear program to make weapons, as Washington suspects. The latest round of talks yielded no results.

On Monday, opening day of a monthlong conference reviewing the workings of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, U.S. delegation chief Stephen G. Rademaker demanded that Iran shut down and dismantle its enrichment equipment.

“The treaty is facing the most serious challenge in its history,” the assistant secretary of state told delegates.

Because of the Iran dispute, treaty members still had not agreed on a complete agenda as of Tuesday afternoon. Conference organizers reported the Iranians were resisting a reference in the document to “relevant developments” — diplomatic code, in this case, for Iran’s nuclear program. Organizers hope to have agreement before the nuts-and-bolts work of committees begins next week.

Under the 35-year-old Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, states without nuclear arms pledge not to pursue them in exchange for a commitment by five nuclear powers — the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China — to move toward nuclear disarmament. Three other nuclear states — Israel, India and Pakistan — remain outside the treaty.

The treaty is reviewed every five years at conferences whose consensus positions give valuable political support to nonproliferation initiatives. At the 2000 meeting, the nuclear powers committed to “13 practical steps” toward disarmament, but critics complain the Bush administration — by rejecting the nuclear test-ban treaty, for example — has come up short.

“We are greatly disappointed” by “unsatisfactory progress” toward disarmament by the big powers, said New Zealand’s Marian Hobbs, speaking for a coalition of disarmament-minded states.

Rademaker said, however, the Bush administration is “proud to have played a leading role in reducing nuclear arsenals,” via the 2002 Moscow Treaty, for example, under which the United States and Russia are to cut back deployed warheads by two-thirds, to between 1,700 and 2,200 each, by 2012.

That agreement has been criticized for not requiring destruction of excess warheads taken off deployment or providing a transparent timetable and open verification of reductions.

Rademaker sought to focus attention instead on Iran, saying, “We dare not look the other way.”

The Iran question hinges on the treaty’s Article IV, which guarantees nonweapons states the right to peaceful nuclear technology, including uranium enrichment equipment to produce fuel for nuclear power plants.

Bomb aspirations denied
That same technology, with further enrichment, can produce material for nuclear bombs. Tehran denies that is the purpose of its long-secret uranium-enrichment program, but in his keynote address Annan said states like Iran “must not insist” on possessing such sensitive technology.

Following Annan to the U.N. podium, Mohamed ElBaradei, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, renewed his call for a moratorium on new fuel-cycle facilities while international controls are negotiated.

ElBaradei has proposed putting nuclear fuel production under multilateral control by regional or international bodies. Rademaker reaffirmed President Bush’s proposal for an outright ban on nuclear fuel technology, except in the United States and a dozen other countries that have it.

The Tehran government is negotiating on and off with Germany, France and Britain about shutting down its enrichment operations in return for economic incentives.

Meantime, Tehran has proposed establishment of a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East, a move that would require Israel to give up its nuclear arsenal.

North Korea pulled out of the treaty in 2003 and said in February it has already built nuclear weapons. But the review conference is not expected to focus heavily on this first treaty defector, in order not to complicate efforts to draw Pyongyang back into the treaty fold through now stalled six-nation talks.