Iran decides to resume nuclear fuel research

Reza Vaidi of the Iranian delegation to the IAEA, left, speaks to journalists as Iran's permanent representative to the U.N. in Vienna Mohammad Mehdi Akhondzadeh, right, looks on, after talks between Iran and European diplomats accredited to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Wednesday, Dec. 21.

The Associated Press
Published: Tuesday, January 3, 2006 at 1:07 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 3, 2006 at 1:07 p.m.

Iran has decided to resume research into nuclear fuel production, a top official said Tuesday in a statement certain to increase concerns that Iran is moving toward production of nuclear weapons.

Mohammad Saeedi, deputy head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, did not specify what kind of research would be resumed but said that for now, it did not include the enrichment of uranium, a process that can produce fuel for atomic weapons.

"It has been decided that the International Atomic Energy Agency will be informed today about (our) research in the field of nuclear fuel. Research will resume in cooperation and coordination with the IAEA in the next few days," Saeedi said.

Saeedi said Iran's nuclear program had suffered significantly from a research suspension over the past 2 1/2 years and it could no longer keep its scientists from proceeding.

Tehran says the program is for electricity generation, despite U.S. and European concerns that it is moving to produce nuclear bombs.

IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei said in Vienna that Iran told the U.N. nuclear watchdog Tuesday of a decision to resume research and development starting Feb. 9.

Elbaradei said it was important that Tehran "maintains its suspension of all enrichment-related activity" as a way of reducing international suspicions about its nuclear plans.

Elbaradei also called on Iran to "build confidence and enable the resumption of dialogue with all concerned parties."

A European diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to publicly discuss European Union strategy, said it was too early to evaluate the significance of the move, and whether it would scuttle talks planned for later this months between Iran and French, British and German negotiators.

The EU has previously said that any decision by Iran to resume work on its uranium enrichment program would be "the red line" that would end European attempts to negotiate with Iran over its nuclear program. An end to the talks would revive attempts to have Iran taken before the U.N. Security Council for violating the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, the EU has said.

Iran has come under heavy international pressure from the IAEA and the West to abandon its program to produce fuel for its Russian-built nuclear reactor, which is to come online this year, as well as its future nuclear power plants.

Iran has vowed it will never give up its right under the treaty to enrich uranium and produce nuclear fuel inside its borders.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said his country will reject a U.S. and European-backed Russian proposal to end the nuclear dispute if it sought to move any Iranian enrichment program to Russia, its northern neighbor.

"If it means enrichment be carried out (only) in Russia, we have said it is not acceptable. But if it is a complementary plan, we will study it," Asefi told reporters in Iran.

Extremists within the increasingly hard-line Iranian government have denounced the Russian proposal as a "dirty trick."

While refusing to renounce enrichment, Iran suspended many aspects of its nuclear fuel program in 2003 as a goodwill gesture during negotiations with Britain, France and Germany.

The talks collapsed in August after Iran resumed uranium reprocessing, a step before enrichment, at its Uranium Conversion Facility in Isfahan.

The two sides resumed dialogue last month but have so far failed to resolve the dispute.

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