Iran Denies Halt To Its Uranium Enrichment Activities

Tuesday, March 6th 2007, 8:18 am
By: News On 6

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) _ Iran's foreign minister on Tuesday denied his country has slowed its nuclear program, contradicting remarks by the head of the U.N. nuclear agency that Iran appeared to have paused uranium enrichment.

Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said uranium enrichment was continuing unabated.

``Iran's legitimate activities with the aim of producing fuel ... is continuing its natural trend,'' Mottaki told a press conference. ``There has been no change in that course.''

Iran's Atomic Energy Organization also said Tuesday there had been no change in the enrichment schedule.

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, said Monday that Iran appeared to have at least temporarily paused on the development of its uranium enrichment program. Enriched uranium is used to fuel nuclear power stations and, taken to a higher degree, can be used in the manufacture of nuclear bombs.

The IAEA has installed cameras at the enrichment center in Natanz.

A pause could be an attempt to ease Iran's conflict with the Security Council, which is considering harsher sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

But underlining that any pause was informal and temporary, ElBaradei, in separate comments, repeated the main finding of his recent report on Iran, saying that ``Iran has not suspended its enrichment-related activities'' as demanded by the Security Council.

And he also said his agency cannot be sure if Iran's nuclear activities are peaceful or a cover for a weapons program until the country cooperates with his experts.

China urged Iran on Tuesday to fully open its nuclear program to U.N. inspections, as a meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency moved toward slashing technical aid programs for the country because of its defiance of the U.N. Security Council.

``We welcome, support and call upon Iran to step up cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency,'' Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing told reporters in Beijing, picking up on a theme raised by ElBaradei at the Vienna meeting.

Unless Iran takes ``the long overdue decision'' to cooperate with the IAEA, it ``will have no option but to reserve its judgment about Iran's nuclear program,'' he said.

Iran, which says its nuclear program is intended only to create fuel for power plants, has enriched small quantities of uranium to the low level suitable for nuclear fuel generation. The U.S. and its allies fear that Iran could build nuclear weapons with larger amounts of more highly enriched uranium.

Hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had been expected to announce last month that Iran had started installing 3,000 uranium-enriching centrifuges at a facility in the desert outside the central city of Natanz, where it has about 500 centrifuges above and below ground. But the announcement never materialized, an apparent step back that ElBaradei appeared to confirm Monday.

Up for review as early as Tuesday at the Vienna meeting of the IAEA's 35 board nations will be a Feb. 22 report from ElBaradei finding that Iran has set up hundreds of centrifuges as part of its continuing enrichment efforts.

The board was expected to approve last month's decision by ElBaradei to suspend nearly half the technical aid his agency provides to Iran. Only North Korea and Saddam Hussein's Iraq have faced such punishment in the past.

The European Union said it backed the suspensions, saying it ``supports the (IAEA) ... views'' on the 23 projects that could be suspended _ 18 contained in the most recent recommendations and five frozen earlier.

The board also will be reviewing North Korea's apparent willingness to ultimately dismantle its nuclear arms-making capabilities.

The U.N. Security Council's permanent members and Germany are currently discussing strengthening sanctions imposed on Iran in December for its refusal to halt enrichment.