- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Iran removed U.N. seals at its Natanz uranium-enrichment plant and resumed nuclear-fuel research yesterday, provoking immediate condemnation from the United States and Europe along with renewed threats of Security Council action.

U.S. and European officials began intensive discussions on how to respond to Tehran’s move, focusing on a possible emergency meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) board of governors in Vienna, Austria.

Iran informed the IAEA, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, of its intention to start “small-scale” uranium-enrichment work, the agency said yesterday.

Director General Mohamed ElBaradei “expressed his serious concern about Iran’s decision to unravel the suspension of enrichment-related activities requested by the IAEA board of governors before the agency has clarified the nature of Iran’s nuclear program,” the agency said.

The new development makes it more likely that the IAEA will refer Iran to the Security Council for consideration of sanctions, Western diplomats said.

“We view this as a serious escalation on the part of Iran on the nuclear issue,” said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack.

“If the regime in Iran continues on the current course and fails to abide by its international obligations, there is no other choice but to refer the matter to the Security Council,” said White House spokesman Scott McClellan.

But the United States is not preparing to attack Iran, he said. The United States is “working with the international community to resolve this in a peaceful and diplomatic manner.”

Tehran agreed last year to suspend uranium enrichment pending talks with Britain, France and Germany, which have offered economic and other incentives if Iran abandons its nuclear ambitions.

French President Jacques Chirac said yesterday in Paris that the Iranians “would be making a serious mistake if they failed to grasp the hand we are extending to them.”

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said in London that referral to the Security Council will be on the top of the agenda at an EU meeting this week.

Even Russia, which is building a nuclear reactor for Iran at Bushehr, voiced “concern” over yesterday’s move, saying it was “deeply disappointed.”

“We call on Iran to return actively to a condition of moratorium and to full cooperation with the IAEA,” the Foreign Ministry said in Moscow. “This moratorium was an absolutely essential measure of trust to resolve outstanding questions on the Iranian nuclear program.”

The Bush administration said it has the votes in the IAEA Board of Governors to refer Iran to the Security Council, although the situation in the council is very different. Russia and China have been resisting any anti-Iran statements, let alone sanctions.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov by telephone yesterday amid signs that Moscow may be getting fed up with Tehran.

There were no such signs from Beijing, and Miss Rice did not call her Chinese counterpart. A senior aide suggested that trying to change the Chinese’s mind is not worth it.

“If she thinks it’s important, she’ll give them a call,” the aide said.

An Iranian exile said yesterday the EU “negotiations with Iran are dead.”

“The Iranian Revolutionary Guards and the Defense Ministry control all the levers of the nuclear program, and there’s no point begging Iran to come back to the negotiating table,” said Alireza Jafarzadeh, a critic of the regime and president of Washington-based Strategic Policy Consulting.

Mr. Jafarzadeh has worked closely with the Iranian opposition group the People’s Mojahedin of Iran, officially designated a terrorist group by the U.S. government but which has provided key intelligence on Iranian efforts to build a nuclear program.

David R. Sands contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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