Iran resumes uranium enrichment,00.html

Rosalind Ryan and agencies
Monday August 8, 2005

Iran restarted its uranium enrichment programme today despite the threat of sanctions being imposed by the UN security council.

Mohammad Saeedi, the deputy head of Iran's atomic energy organisation, said work had begun this afternoon at its Isfahan plant, 340km (211 miles) south of Tehran.

"The uranium conversion facility in Isfahan has started its activities under International Atomic Energy Agency supervision," he told state television reporters.

Inspectors from the UN's nuclear watchdog finished installing surveillance equipment at the plant today, paving the way for the enrichment programme to resume.

Iran suspended the programme in November and began talks with the EU - represented by Britain, France and Germany - aimed at convincing Iran to use imported low-enriched nuclear fuel for its reactors instead.

But reopening the plant means the European negotiating group, known as the E3, could refer Iran to the UN for possible sanctions.

On Saturday, they called an emergency meeting of the IAEA to try to find a solution to the escalating situation over Iran's nuclear ambitions. The IAEA board will meet tomorrow in Vienna.

The call for an emergency session came the day after the EU offered Tehran a package of proposals including trade, political, security and nuclear benefits if Iran agrees to abandon the programme.

The package reportedly pledges long-term supplies of nuclear technology, reactors and fuel for a civil nuclear programme. It also vows no military strikes against Iranian targets if Tehran accepts the proposals.

However, the government of the new hard-line president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is widely expected to reject them, leading to the possibility of sanctions.

The Isfahan facility converts raw uranium ore into uranium hexafluoride gas, which can then be used to enrich uranium. Enriched uranium is used in nuclear power plants, or can be further enriched to weapons-grade material.

Brussels and Washington doubt Iran's claims that it wants to enrich uranium as fuel for nuclear power stations to meet its booming electricity demand, and suspect it of wanting to continue the enrichment process in an effort to produce a nuclear bomb.

The German government urged Tehran today to consider the package to avoid "miscalculations" of its interests.

"We hope Iran will now examine the comprehensive proposal from the E3 very carefully and very seriously," said German foreign ministry spokesman Jens Plötner.

"We are absolutely convinced that the E3 proposal is a good basis for further talks on the way to an agreement which fully meets the legitimate interests of both sides. We hope that Iran doesn't make any miscalculations here."