ElBaradei 'loses patience' as Iran breaks UN seals at nuclear research centres

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The Independent Online

Iran was preparing to remove United Nations seals at several nuclear research and development sites last night, despite warnings from the UN nuclear chief, Mohamed ElBaradei, that the international community was running out of patience with Tehran.

It would be the second time in five months that Iran, which insists its nuclear programme is peaceful, removed seals put in place by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

"We will remove the seals and we have announced that we are ready to start research from tomorrow," a foreign ministry spokesman, Hamid Reza Asefi, said yesterday. "It depends on the IAEA to announce its readiness as this will take place under the agency's supervision," he added.

However, Mr ElBaradei, the head of the IAEA, disputed Tehran's assertion that 90 per cent of issues related to the resumption of research had been solved.

"I am running out of patience, the international community is running out patience, the credibility of the verification process is at stake and I'd like - by March - which is when my next report is, to be able to clarify these issues," he said.

"Everybody would like to see a regime by which the international community is assured that the Iranian programme is exclusively for peaceful purposes and there are still a number of issues we are looking at.

"There is also a consensus that enrichment in ... Iran right now is a matter of serious concern."

Uranium enrichment is the most sensitive part of the nuclear fuel cycle since it can be used to produce bomb-grade material as well as nuclear reactor fuel.

Iran has not publicly disclosed what activities it plans to resume today. Diplomats and analysts say atomic research and development could involve some laboratory tests of uranium enrichment and the assembly of enrichment centrifuges.

"R&D activities will be under the IAEA's supervision and there is nothing to be worried about," Mr Asefi said.

IAEA officials say an Iranian team failed to show up for talks in Vienna last week to explain what activities Iran planned to resume.

Asked why the Iranian team flew back from Vienna without meeting the IAEA, Javad Vaeedi, deputy head of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, told state television: "Holding any meeting has to be based on the attainment of an aim and a result. The cancellation of the meeting in fact took place in this light."

Last Thursday, a high-ranking Iranian delegation rebuffed Mr ElBaradei, reneging on a pledge to provide full details of its plans.

Russian officials continued talks in Iran about a 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 soil.