Thursday, April 13, 2006

World powers condemn Iran's nuclear step


Wed Apr 12, 2006

By Parisa Hafezi

TEHRAN (Reuters) - The world's leading powers, including Russia and China, joined to condemn Iran on Wednesday for advancing its atomic programme in defiance of the United Nations, but Moscow said force could not resolve the dispute.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared on Tuesday that Iran had produced its first batch of enriched uranium and would now press ahead with industrial-scale enrichment.

His announcement kept Tehran on a collision course with the United Nations and with Western countries convinced Iran seeks atomic arms, not just fuel for power stations as it insists.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the U.N. Security Council, which last month told Tehran to halt all enrichment work, should respond with unspecified "strong steps" to maintain the credibility of the international community.

Asked if the council might impose sanctions on Iran, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said: "That's a possibility as well, that's one option that's available."

Russia and China, key players on the Iran issue with veto rights at the Security Council, have hitherto opposed sanctions.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the use of force was no answer to the standoff over Iran's nuclear programme.

"If such plans exist they will not be able to solve this problem. On the contrary they could create a dangerous explosive blaze in the Middle East, where there are already enough blazes," he said.

U.S. President George W. Bush this week dismissed media reports of plans for strikes on Iran as "wild speculation".

China's U.N. Ambassador Wang Guangya said Tehran's enrichment move was "not in line with what is required of them by the international community".


Russia's Foreign Ministry urged Iran to stop all enrichment work. But a senior Iranian official ruled out any retreat.

"Iran's nuclear activities are like a waterfall which has begun to flow. It cannot be stopped," said the official, who asked not to be named.

International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei will visit Iran on Thursday to seek Iranian cooperation with the Security Council and the IAEA, the U.N. nuclear watchdog.

An IAEA diplomat in Vienna said U.N. inspectors would brief ElBaradei on their recent findings at Iranian nuclear sites and on Iran's claim to have enriched uranium by 3.5 percent.

"This will guide him in his discussions with Iranian leaders," the diplomat said.

ElBaradei will reiterate to Iran recent calls by the IAEA and the Security Council for a halt to all enrichment work, and seek answers to IAEA queries for his next report to the council.

"It's wishful thinking to think Iran would shut down the nuclear process entirely now," the diplomat said, noting that Iran had a legal right to enrich uranium for civilian purposes.

"What happened yesterday, which was predictable, doesn't change that big picture," he said.

"They have obviously achieved a significant advance at the research and development level and want to present it as a fait accompli to strengthen their bargaining position with the West."

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan urged all parties to return to talks and "cool down the rhetoric".

Three European states behind a deal to suspend enrichment which broke down last year weighed in with criticism of Iran.

Foreign Minister Jack Straw said the announcement was "deeply unhelpful" and undermined confidence. His German counterpart, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, said Iran was "going in precisely the wrong direction" for a return to negotiations.

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said it was a worrying step and Iran should stop its "dangerous activities".

The U.S. State Department said it was unable to confirm that Iran had enriched uranium and some experts said even if Tehran's assertions were accurate, it would still be years before the Islamic Republic was able to produce a nuclear weapon.

The level of enrichment needed for nuclear bombs is far higher than the 3.5 percent Iran says it has reached.

It would take Iran about two decades to yield enough highly enriched uranium for one bomb with its current cascade of 164 centrifuges. But Tehran says it wants to install 3,000 centrifuges, enough to produce material for a warhead in a year.


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