Iran Moves Closer to Blocking Inspections

Israeli & Global News

The Associated Press
Saturday, December 3, 2005; 9:34 PM

TEHRAN, Iran -- Iran's hard-line constitutional watchdog approved a bill Saturday blocking international inspections of atomic facilities if the nation is referred to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions, state-run television reported.

The ratification by the Guardian Council means the bill _ overwhelmingly approved by parliament last month _ now needs just a presidential signature to become law. It was not clear when that would take place.

The bill will strengthen the government's hand in resisting international pressure to permanently abandon uranium enrichment, a process that can produce fuel for either nuclear reactors or atomic bombs.

Iran has been under intense pressure to curb its nuclear program, which the United States claims is part of an effort to produce weapons. Iran says its program is aimed at generating electricity.

While Iran has frozen its enrichment program, it restarted uranium conversion _ a step toward enrichment _ in August. The International Atomic Energy Agency has warned Iran that its nuclear program could be referred to the Security Council, which has the power to impose sanctions for violations of a nuclear arms control treaty.

"If Iran's nuclear file is referred or reported to the U.N. Security Council, the government will be required to cancel all voluntary measures," the bill says, meaning Iran would stop allowing in-depth inspections by the IAEA.

Iran has been allowing short-notice inspections of those facilities under a protocol to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

The United States and European Union want Iran to permanently halt uranium enrichment. But Tehran says the nonproliferation treaty allows it to pursue a nuclear program for peaceful purposes, and it maintains it will never give up the right to enrich uranium to produce nuclear fuel.

In May, the Guardian Council ratified a bill compelling the government to continue the nuclear program, including uranium enrichment activities. The law set no timetable, however, allowing the government room to maneuver during negotiations with the European Union.

Those talks with Britain, France and Germany broke off in August after Tehran restarted uranium conversion. Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Wednesday that talks would resume within the next two weeks.

"We expect the international community not to waste any time. It is clear to Iran that time is of the essence. We are patient and will continue patiently in making decisions based on future expedience," Ali Larijani, Iran's top nuclear negotiator, told state-run television.

Under a plan floated by some diplomats, Iranian enrichment would be moved to Russia and Moscow would supervise the process to make sure enrichment is only to fuel levels. Iran, however, insists it wants to master the complete fuel cycle domestically.

Sergey Lavrov, Russia's foreign minister, on Saturday praised the plan as a way to defuse the nuclear crisis.

"We consider this is an absolutely workable idea and it could permit us to find a comprehensive, generally acceptable package of agreements that would become a reliable solution of the Iranian problem and aid in restoring confidence in this question," Lavrov said after a meeting with Germany's new foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

Steinmeier called on Iran to show "wisdom and reasonableness," and said any nuclear ambitions Tehran had should be limited to research.


Associated Press writer Judith Ingram contributed to this report from Moscow.