Saturday, July 31, 2004

From combined dispatches

TEHRAN — A defiant Iran yesterday said it had resumed building nuclear centrifuges, saying the move was retaliation for the failure of three European powers to get its file closed at the U.N. nuclear watchdog.

The announcement by Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi hardened the lines between Iran and the United States, which has been pushing to take Iran’s nuclear program to the U.N. Security Council.

Mr. Kharrazi told a press conference that Iran has not resumed enriching uranium but was manufacturing centrifuges in response to the failure in June of Britain, Germany and France to help close Iran’s file of nuclear nonproliferation violations at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

“We still continue suspension on uranium enrichment, meaning that we have not resumed enrichment,” Mr. Kharrazi said. “But we are not committed to another agreement with [Britain, Germany and France] on not building centrifuges.”

Diplomats said this past week that Tehran had resumed building equipment used to make uranium hexaflouride which — when processed in centrifuges — can be enriched to low levels for power generation or high levels for nuclear weapons.

Officials from Iran and the European powers are meeting in Paris, seeking to reach a consensus on Tehran’s nuclear program.

The EU “big three” have given no details of their meeting Thursday but U.S. officials say Iran told them it would not surrender its right to proceed with uranium enrichment.

“The British and the French tell us Iran insists it will not back down on its right to proceed with enrichment,” a senior U.S. official in Washington said Friday.

Another U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told Reuters news agency that the Europeans were “not too happy” with the Iranian meeting.

“The EU three underscored their concerns and said [to the Iranians], ‘Look, you’re making a big mistake. You need to get back on the program,’” the U.S. official said.

“The fact that Iran just decided to back off its commitment took them by surprise and they weren’t happy about it,” he added.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell warned Iran on Thursday that its case was increasingly likely to be referred to the sanction-imposing U.N. Security Council for failing to meet IAEA commitments.

Mr. Kharrazi said such comments were part of pressure to deprive Iran of its legitimate right to peaceful nuclear technology.

“We just want to produce fuel for our plants and we are not after nuclear weapons,” he said.

Washington says Iran’s nuclear program is a cover for seeking atomic weapons. It has been lobbying for the IAEA to refer Iran’s nuclear file to the Security Council, which could impose sanctions.

The Paris talks prepare the ground for a September meeting of the board of governors of the IAEA, which is expected to discuss Iran’s program.

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