Iran's offer to stop enriching uranium falls flat

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The Independent Online

Iran set the scene yesterday for a stormy meeting of the UN nuclear watchdog next week after Britain and America dismissed an offer that was clearly aimed at avoiding sanctions.

Iran set the scene yesterday for a stormy meeting of the UN nuclear watchdog next week after Britain and America dismissed an offer that was clearly aimed at avoiding sanctions.

Diplomats said that Iran had approached the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and agreed to reimpose a freeze on making, testing and assembling centrifuges used to enrich uranium. The centrifuges can enrich uranium to the arms-grade level needed for use in nuclear warheads.

But a Foreign Office spokesman said that the Iranian offer did not go far enough because it made no mention of the key issue of the uranium enrichment process itself.

"It's the typical tactics before an IAEA meeting," said the spokesman, who said that the Iranian concession appeared tailored for a domestic audience.

Iran is desperate to avoid being referred to the UN Security Council which could order punitive measures against Tehran for failing to come clean on its nuclear-related activities.

American officials are pressing for the IAEA governors' board meeting, which begins on Monday, to have Iran declared in violation of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

The foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany and Britain convinced Iran last October to suspend its uranium enrichment-related activities. But in June, Iran violated the agreement by resuming the production and testing of nuclear centrifuges.

Enrichment does not fall under treaty obligations, but the US believes that Iran has failed to live up to its commitments to the three European governments and should be punished.

The US State Department spokesman, Richard Boucher, described Iran's latest move as a ploy.

"What's needed now is concrete action by Iran to end its pursuit of nuclear weapons capabilities, including its pursuit of the complete nuclear fuel cycle that would give Iran that capability," Mr Boucher said. "We believe Iran needs to comply with its promises and the requirements put down by the board of governors. But ... Iran has not complied.

"So we do believe that it's time to look at referring this matter to the UN Security Council," he said.

But despite the latest twist, Britain still appears unwilling to report Iran to the Security Council, fearing it could be counter-productive unless a majority of the 15 members are united in approving action.

Iran's approach to the IAEA came after European Union foreign ministers expressed mounting impatience with Tehran authorities.

Jack Straw, the foreign secretary, said after the meeting in the Netherlands that he was "perplexed and saddened that the Iranian government" was sticking to its nuclear ambitions.

Britain, France and Germany are drafting the resolution that is to be adopted by the 35-member IAEA board.

While enriched uranium can be used in weapons warheads, it can also be used as an energy source and Iran has insisted that is the use it is interested in, rather than weaponry. Again, critics see that as an obscuring policy, to avoid sanctions.

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