- The Washington Times - Monday, August 1, 2005

TEHRAN — Iran yesterday defiantly took the first steps toward a resumption of sensitive nuclear work, which risks plunging talks with the European Union into crisis and exposing Tehran to U.N. Security Council action.

Iran handed a letter to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that formally notified the U.N. watchdog of the imminent resumption of uranium-ore conversion, the precursor to enrichment in the nuclear-fuel cycle.

It then announced that in coordination with inspectors from the IAEA it was making the initial preparations to remove the seals placed on a plant in the city of Isfahan and resume conversion activities after a nine-month suspension.

The Islamic republic has yet to announce that production has started — something it had originally said would take place yesterday — but emphasized the initial steps were mere formalities and there was no going back.

“Inspectors from the IAEA are working, controlling [surveillance] cameras and making their own controls so that the seals can be removed,” nuclear negotiator Ali Agha Mohammadi said on state television.

“When their work is completed, this will mean that the [uranium conversion] plant at Isfahan will restart. It is routine and practical work, but from our point of view, Isfahan is already back online.”

Tehran’s decision jeopardizes months of tortuous talks with European Union powers Britain, France and Germany aimed at saving Iran from U.N. Security Council sanctions.

“If Iran does not go back on its choice, we will then have to demand an exceptional meeting of the IAEA council of governors,” French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste Blazy said.

“If despite this Iran carries on, we will need to go to the Security Council,” he added.

The United States, which accuses Iran of seeking to develop a nuclear weapon, lost no time in reaffirming its threat to go to the Security Council.

“If they’re not going to abide by their agreement and obligations, then we would have to look to the Security Council,” White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.

IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei urged Iran “to continue the negotiation process” and halt its unilateral move, which came just three days before hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad takes office.

Iran, which says its nuclear program is for civilian purposes only, suspended conversion and enrichment activity last November for the duration of talks with the European Union.

Tehran warned Sunday that it would resume conversion work if the EU failed by yesterday to come up with its package of trade and security incentives, a timetable that the European countries said never existed.

Yesterday’s letter did not close the door on further talks, but pledged to maintain its current suspension of uranium enrichment.

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