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Iran again delays restart of nuclear program

Iran's Uranium Conversion Facility, just outside the city of Isfahan, 250 miles south of Tehran.
Iran's Uranium Conversion Facility, just outside the city of Isfahan, 250 miles south of Tehran.Vahid Salemi / AP file
/ Source: Reuters

Iran said it hoped to resume work at a uranium conversion plant by early next week, backtracking from an earlier plan to restart on Wednesday but still rejecting Western appeals to keep in place a freeze on the project.

The European Union has warned Iran any resumption of nuclear fuel activities would mean an end to two years of talks on Iran’s atomic ambitions. Tehran says it wants only to generate electricity but the West suspects it aims to make nuclear bombs.

If Iran resumes work and the EU declares the talks over, the EU would then back U.S. calls to start a process that could end with the Islamic Republic being referred to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions.

Chief nuclear negotiator Hassan Rohani said he had sent a letter to the EU complaining that the bloc was making “unacceptable threats”.

“We hope to restart work by the beginning of next week when preparations are complete,” he told state television, speaking on the day that Iran’s new, conservative President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took office.

Rohani said he would probably not remain Iran’s top negotiator under Ahmadinejad, but that his successor would not change Iran’s nuclear policies.

Iranian officials have repeatedly said the decision to resume nuclear fuel work was irreversible, but would be carried out under the supervision of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors.

The IAEA said it would take at least a week to send surveillance equipment from its headquarters in Vienna and install it in the central city of Isfahan, where Iran hopes to convert uranium ore into feed gas for centrifuges.

Centrifuges then enrich uranium by spinning it at supersonic speed.

'Strategic choice' The EU3 of Britain, France and Germany planned to offer Iran nuclear, political and economic incentives to freeze its nuclear fuel activities indefinitely, and have said a resumption would torpedo two years of hard bargaining and spark an international crisis.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said Ahmadinejad faced “a strategic choice, to continue down a road that leads to isolation, or to decide on and reap the benefit of international cooperation,” according to the pre-publication summary of an article for Germany’s Capital magazine.

Iran insists the EU recognize its right to enrich uranium, something the bloc has refused to do.

Iranian officials accuse the EU of breaking a 2004 deal under which Iran suspended its nuclear fuel work, saying the bloc has dragged its heels in the talks started under that agreement.

Iran, like all signatories of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, is obliged to open civilian nuclear sites to inspection. Tehran has agreed to allow cameras at its facilities.

The EU3 said they were holding back a request for a special session of the IAEA board of governors in the hope of a diplomatic solution, an EU official said.

In Iran’s opaque political system, analysts are split on whether top policy makers are somehow setting the stage for Ahmadinejad to save the day with a new deal or whether he is subservient to their greater national goals.

EU officials said they still suspected Iran was maneuvering to put the Europeans on the defensive but would not carry out its threat to restart the conversion of uranium ore into a gas used for nuclear fuel enrichment.