- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 8, 2006

TEHRAN — Iran said yesterday that inspectors from the U.N. nuclear-watchdog agency would remove seals from some nuclear facilities by today, opening the way for Tehran to resume research on fuel production.

The development heightened concerns in the West that Iran was moving toward building atomic weapons.

“Iran is ready to resume the research activities after the inspectors remove the seals,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said. “It is our right as [much as] other members of the Nonproliferation Treaty. Iran should not be exempted.”

Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) arrived in Tehran on Saturday to remove seals they had affixed to the research sites after Iran voluntarily agreed to stop all enrichment-related activities more than two years ago as a confidence-building measure.

The Iranians have maintained they will never give up their right under the Nonproliferation Treaty to enrich uranium and produce nuclear fuel, but the IAEA and most of its members want Tehran to maintain the freeze because of growing fears it will misuse enrichment to make weapons.

Tehran said its nuclear program is for electricity generation, while the United States and Europe suspect Iran is moving to produce nuclear bombs. The United States and France have pushed for taking Iran before the U.N. Security Council, which could impose sanctions if Tehran is found in violation of the Nonproliferation Treaty.

Mr. Asefi said Iran’s research would respect regulations set by the U.N. watchdog and the treaty. “The activities will be under supervision of the agency; therefore, there is nothing to be worried about,” he said.

In Vienna, Austria, the tug of war continued yesterday between Iran and the IAEA, which asked for additional details about what exactly Tehran planned to do with its enrichment equipment.

IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said the agency had received additional information since Saturday, when Tehran first gave the agency some specifics, but it still sought more.

On Thursday, a high-ranking Iranian delegation rebuffed IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei, reneging on a pledge to provide full details of its plans by not showing up for a scheduled meeting with him.

Russian officials in Iran, meanwhile, continued talks about Moscow’s proposal that the two countries conduct uranium enrichment, a process that can produce nuclear fuel for reactors or atomic weapons depending on the degree of enrichment, on Russian territory.

The Russian proposal, backed by the European Union and the United States, was designed to ease concerns that Iran would use the fuel to build a bomb.

But Iran’s senior nuclear negotiator said the country still wants the fuel cycle on its own soil. “Iran’s right on nuclear fuel, especially enrichment, inside the country has to be guaranteed in any proposal,” Javad Vaidi told state-run radio.

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