- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 9, 2005

Iran resumed uranium-conversion activities at its Isfahan nuclear facility yesterday, breaching an agreement with European countries in an action that Western nations have said could lead them to seek U.N. sanctions against Tehran.

The United States will consult with its European allies before deciding whether to refer Iran to the United Nations Security Council, State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said in Washington.

Mr. Ereli also said the department might break with precedent by denying a visa for newly elected Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to attend the U.N. General Assembly session in New York next month.

Iran yesterday resumed the first stage of processing raw uranium — known as yellowcake — into nuclear fuel at its nuclear plant in central Iran, breaking a suspension agreement signed in November with European Union members Britain, France and Germany.

“This is Iran thumbing its nose at a productive approach by the EU-3, and we’ll have to work together to take a response,” Mr. Ereli said.

Iranian officials earlier rejected as “unacceptable” a European package of incentives meant to cajole the country into abandoning its nuclear program and ending the standoff.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), a U.N. nuclear watchdog, will discuss the action at an emergency meeting in Vienna, Austria, today. Agence France-Presse reported that the IAEA would likely issue an ultimatum demanding a suspension of Iran’s nuclear-fuel work.

“It is clear that Iran is in default of its obligations to the IAEA, and there is a legal basis for taking action against Iran,” said Gary Milhollin, the director of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control in Washington. “The question is whether there is the political will.”

Iran insists that it has the right under the Non-Proliferation Treaty to pursue nuclear technology for energy purposes, while Washington suspects that Iran is clandestinely attempting to construct nuclear weapons.

Analysts predicted that the Bush administration will use the latest Iranian malfeasance as proof that the new hard-line government cannot be trusted and press Europeans to seek U.N. sanctions as the only recourse.

The State Department’s “strategy will be to fuel the indignation of the Europeans who have worked with Iranians for years and just got a stick in their eye,” said Jon Alterman, director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Middle East Program.

But the State Department understands that it must be circumspect in its criticism, said George Perkovich, vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, because if “they play real hardball and are vocal, that will strengthen the hard-liners in Iran and inspire the nationalists.”

The decision to resume uranium processing came days after the ultranationalist Mr. Ahmadinejad, who assumed the presidency last week, named a like-minded hard-liner to replace his country’s chief nuclear negotiator.

Ali Larijani, who has been an outspoken proponent of Iran’s nuclear ambition, will take over from Hassan Rowhani, introducing a note of uncertainly to future negotiations.

Mr. Ahmadinejad “wants to distinguish himself and send a signal to the people who elected him that he won’t let the country be pushed around,” said Mr. Alterman.

Mr. Ahmadinejad, who has been accused of participating in the 1979 hostage seizure at the American Embassy in Tehran, has applied for a U.S. visa to attend the annual U.N. General Assembly meeting in September.

Asked whether an ongoing investigation into Mr. Ahmadinejad’s role in the hostage-taking would affect the visa application, Mr. Ereli said, “It’s obviously something that is relevant to the decision being made.”

A U.N. official said the host country has never denied a visa to a head of state or government seeking to visit the world body.

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