- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 30, 2003

The European Union, echoing the Bush administration, warned Iran yesterday of severe consequences if it continues to seek nuclear weapons, as officials in Tehran admitted that traces of weapons-grade uranium had been found at a second site by international inspectors.

EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels increased the pressure on Iran, saying lucrative new trade deals could be scrapped if Tehran did not “immediately comply” with demands by the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for stricter oversight to prove Iran was not seeking to build a nuclear bomb.

“We want Iran to state unequivocally that there are no nuclear weapons possibilities that could be developed as a result of any nuclear program in Iran,” British Minister for Europe Denis MacShane told reporters in Brussels.

Added German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer: “A nuclear arms race in the region is about the worst thing you can imagine.”

Iran has been increasingly on the defensive since the IAEA board overwhelmingly passed a U.S.-backed resolution earlier this month setting an Oct. 31 deadline to agree to tougher inspections of a suspect nuclear site.

Revelations last week that IAEA monitors had found enriched uranium at a second site south of Tehran have heightened fears that Iran is secretly seeking a nuclear bomb.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Washington would press the U.N. Security Council to take up the question directly if Iran fails to meet the Oct. 31 deadline, but he and other administration officials have refused to say what actions they would urge the council to take.

“It’s one step at a time,” said Mr. Boucher. “It’s time for Iran to answer the questions it’s been asked and to comply with the obligations that many other countries have accepted.”

Iran denies it is seeking nuclear weapons, but its divided government has given mixed signals on whether it will comply with international demands. Tehran says its nuclear facilities, including a major Russian-built nuclear plant under construction in the southern port city of Bushehr, are for civilian purposes only.

Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, in New York for the U.N. General Assembly gathering, said yesterday his country was not opposed “in principle” to a tougher inspection program, but added he was wary that program could be an excuse for further pressure from Washington.

“The question is, if something is not enough, why should we sign it?” he said in an interview published yesterday in the Financial Times.

In Tehran, the official Islamic Republic News Agency quoted government spokesman Abdollah Ramezanzadeh as saying Iran “will not accept any restrictions on peaceful application of nuclear energy.”

Ali Akbar Salehi, Iran’s representative to the IAEA, acknowledged for the first time yesterday that small amounts of enriched uranium needed for nuclear arms had been found during an August IAEA inspection of the Kalaye Electric Co. facility just outside Tehran.

But Mr. Salehi said the uranium — as well as a similar finding this spring at a sophisticated plant in the city of Natanz — was the leftover residue from equipment and materials Iran bought from foreign suppliers long ago.

U.S. officials have been skeptical of the Iranian story. IAEA officials were barred from the Kalaye site for more than two months before being allowed to visit in August.

Militant hard-liners in Iran’s Islamic regime have challenged the moderate line adopted by the foreign ministry and reformist President Mohammed Khatami.

Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi, head of the country’s judiciary, said yesterday Iran should stand up to U.S. and European pressure and slammed the accommodating stance of some in the government.

“God’s tradition is that any tribe and nation showing weakness against the enemy and not defending logic and justice would be humiliated,” he said, according to IRNA.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, contradicting Iranian nuclear officials, said in a Sept. 17 speech that Iran had enriched the uranium itself.

The European Union, Iran’s largest trading partner with $15.4 billion in two-way trade in 2001, called in July for Iran to dispel doubts about its nuclear programs.

But yesterday it went further, saying Tehran must “refrain from fuel-cycle activities which can also be used to produce fissile material for nuclear weapons.”

A senior EU diplomat told Reuters news service, “We are demanding more than in July because we now know more about what is happening in Iran.”

The EU statement listed four areas where Iran must show progress before any expanded trade deals can be struck: nuclear proliferation; human rights; Iran’s attitude toward the Middle East peace process; and cooperation in the global war on terror.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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