French FM Kouchner
Photo: AFP
Iran's Ahmadinejad
Photo: AFP

Iran enrichment plan sparks sanctions threat

After Tehran announces plan to produce higher enriched uranium, France says will work with US topush for new UN sanctions against Islamic Republic. FM Kouchner insists Iran does not have capacity to enrich uranium to 20 percent, accuses Tehran of 'blackmail'

Iran said Monday it has formally notified the UN nuclear watchdog of its plan to produce higher enriched uranium, sparking fresh warnings by world powers of sanctions against the defiant Islamic republic.


"Iran's official letter about commencing the 20 percent enrichment activity in order to provide fuel for the Tehran reactor has been handed over to the IAEA," Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Tehran's envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency, told state-owned Arabic language Al-Alam television from Vienna.


Iran's atomic chief Ali Akbar Salehi had announced late Sunday that Tehran would begin enriching uranium to 20 percent from Tuesday and that the IAEA would be informed of its decision before then.


The announcement drew a sharp riposte Monday from world powers, who fear that Iran's nuclear enrichment program is masking an attempt to make atomic weapons.


French Defense Minister Herve Morin warned after talks in Paris with his United States counterpart Robert Gates that the US and France will push for new UN sanctions against Iran.


"We spoke about Iran. Our positions are in complete agreement," Morin, whose country holds the rotating chair on the United Nations Security Council, told reporters at a joint appearance with his US counterpart.


"We have no choice but to work on other measures," he said.


Gates, whose aides had earlier said the United States would ask France to submit a sanctions motion at the council, said: "We are very much agreed that action by the international community is the next step."


French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner meanwhile insisted that Iran does not have the capacity to enrich uranium to 20 percent and accused Tehran of "blackmail."


The Iranians "do not know how to make fuel" for their existing medical reactor, he told reporters at a meeting in Paris. "For what purposes do they want to enrich it to 20 percent?" he demanded.


Germany labeled the move as further sign that Iran is not cooperating with the international community and renewed a warning of fresh sanctions.


'Our proposal is valid'

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's spokesman said in London on Monday Iran's latest pronouncements invited further international censure.


"The prime minister has always been very clear, that Iran continues to face a choice, essentially -- either it engages with the international community or it can face further isolation," he said.


Russia, a close ally of Iran, repeated its position that Iran should send its uranium abroad for higher enrichment in line with the UN-brokered deal.


Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith branded the move a "serious provocation" that "risks testing the patience of the international community."


Salehi's announcement of plans to enrich uranium to 20 percent -- the level required to be used as fuel in reactors -- came just hours after he was ordered on Sunday by hardline president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to start the higher enrichment process.


Salehi said "the higher enrichment will begin at the Natanz plant from the day after tomorrow (Tuesday)."


Iran's main uranium enrichment facility is in the central city of Natanz where it has carried on the sensitive atomic work defiantly for years despite three rounds of UN sanctions.


In a separate comment to the official IRNA news agency, Soltanieh said Iran's letter to the IAEA invited the agency's inspectors "to be present at the site (Natanz), since all nuclear activities of the Islamic republic are under the IAEA supervision."


He also told IRNA that "without doubt we could not wait any longer for the needs of our sick people who required the radio isotope medicines." The Tehran reactor for which the fuel is needed makes medical isotopes.


Salehi, however, said that Tehran would stop the higher enrichment program if the long-negotiated UN-drafted deal with world powers is concluded.


The UN-drafted deal envisages shipping out Iran's low-enriched uranium (LEU) of 3.5 percent abroad to be converted into 20 percent enriched uranium for Tehran's research reactor, which makes medical isotopes.


"Our proposal (to swap the LEU with the fuel) is valid but if we receive the fuel then we will stop the enrichment" of 20 percent uranium, Salehi said, leaving the door open for a last minute deal.


Iran insists that its nuclear enrichment drive is purely for peaceful purposes.


פרסום ראשון: 02.08.10, 17:32
 new comment
This will delete your current comment