- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 11, 2005

NEW YORK — U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged Iranian and European negotiators to avoid escalating the impasse over Tehran’s nuclear program even as Iranian officials yesterday broke the protective seals on a uranium production facility.

In Vienna, Austria, the European Union yesterday submitted a new resolution to the board of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that calls on Iran to halt sensitive nuclear activities but does not threaten a referral to the U.N. Security Council for sanctions.

The United States has been eager to transfer the issue to the council, where, in theory, a resolution to halt production of fissile material would be legally binding and international economic sanctions could be imposed for noncompliance.

But U.N. officials and diplomats from many nations have been reluctant to take that step. Officials from France and China, which have veto powers on the Security Council, made clear yesterday that they were not ready to go that far.

“I think it is up to Vienna to come up with a solution,” China’s U.N. ambassador, Wang Guangya, told reporters after Mr. Annan’s monthly luncheon with council members. “I think it is not up to the Security Council.”

“For the time being, it is in Vienna,” a French diplomat at the United Nations told The Washington Times, indicating that the negotiating group, the so-called “EU3” — France, Britain and Germany — would not seek a referral to the council at this time.

Meanwhile, an Iranian official yesterday warned Europe and the United States against referring Iran to the Security Council over the resumption of operations at its uranium-conversion plant.

Iran’s chief delegate to the IAEA, Cyrus Nasseri, said such a move would be a step toward “the path of confrontation.”

The EU resolution calls on Tehran to immediately resume “full suspension of all [nuclear] enrichment-related activities, including the production of feed material,” a European diplomat familiar with the text told Reuters news agency. The diplomat said the resolution did not refer Tehran to the Security Council.

The 35-nation IAEA board of governors canceled a session tentatively planned for yesterday, and instead diplomats were holding private talks on the resolution urging Iran to suspend its latest nuclear activities.

The IAEA board is expected to discuss the new text today.

Despite international pressure and his pledge to continue talks with EU negotiators, new Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad yesterday ordered workers to start up dormant machinery at the Isfahan facility in southern Iran.

The IAEA had installed the seals eight months ago, with Iran’s permission.

The Isfahan plant converts raw uranium, often called yellowcake, into a gas that is fed through centrifuges to be enriched. The enriched uranium can produce fuel for a nuclear reactor, which is an acceptable civilian use, or material for a bomb.

U.S. and European officials are concerned that Iran will use the enriched uranium to build nuclear weapons.

“This is a very complex issue we are discussing,” Mr. Annan told reporters after the luncheon. “It is essential we break the impasse. The best way to break the impasse is to continue the discussion of the EU3 and Iranians.”

He added, “I hope that all sides will desist from any action that will lead to escalation.”

Matthew Boland, a spokesman for the U.S. mission to the IAEA, described the breaking of the seals as “yet another sign of Iran’s disregard for international concerns.”

“We strongly support [the EU3’s] efforts to convince Iran to stop its dangerous activities,” he told Reuters in Vienna.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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