Iran to limit cooperation with nuclear inspectors

Posted in Iran | 26-Mar-07 | Author: Thom Shanker and William J. Br| Source: International Herald Tribune

The United Nations Security Council votes unanimously to expand sanctions against Iran Saturday, March 24, 2007 at the United Nations headquarters.

The government of Iran Sunday denounced as illegal a sanctions package approved unanimously over the weekend by the United Nations Security Council, and in retaliation announced that it would limit cooperation with the United Nations' nuclear oversight agency.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad issued a defiant statement that "Iran's enrichment of uranium is a legal issue," maintaining that his nation's nuclear program was intended solely for energy production.

In contrast, he said, the Security Council's vote on Saturday imposing new sanctions on Iranian arms exports, the state-owned Bank Sepah and the Revolutionary Guard Corps "is not legal."

"We are not after an atomic bomb because it is not useful and our religion does not allow us to have it," he said in statements posted on his Web site,

A spokesman for the government, Gholamhossein Elham, said on state television that Iran would restrict its cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency in response to the sanctions vote. "After this illegal resolution was passed against Iran last night, it forced the government to act based on Parliament's decision regarding the cooperation level with the agency and suspend parts of its activities with the agency," Elham said.

In the past, Iran has cut back on its cooperation with the inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency in retaliation for actions meant to press it into curbing its nuclear efforts. The cutbacks have made it hard to assess the nuclear progress of Iran, including its ability to make fuel for a nuclear bomb.

The cutback Iran announced Sunday means that it would no longer provide early information to the agency about the design of new facilities that are capable of making atomic fuel.

David Albright, a former United Nations weapons inspector and the president of the Institute for Science and International Security, a private group in Washington that tracks nuclear weapons, said the cooperation cutback could make it easier for Iran to build clandestine plants meant to enrich uranium for nuclear arms.

"To me, it's a serious retreat," he said in an interview. "They could build a backup centrifuge facility and not tell the IAEA It creates a situation where Iran could build a centrifuge facility in secret," in theory keeping it safe from attacks by the United States or Israel.

But a European diplomat who closely follows the IAEA's work said, "For now, it's not going to have much of an impact."

"It sounds tough," he added, but in theory it will only make a difference in the future if Iran chooses to push ahead with the construction of clandestine fuel plants.

A number of world leaders called on Iran Sunday to return to talks and consider a package of incentives to end its uranium enrichment program. Javier Solana, the foreign policy chief of the European Union, said in Berlin that he would reach out to Ali Larijani, Iran's nuclear negotiator, "to see whether we can find a route to negotiations."

Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general, appealed for renewed negotiations, and he urged Iran "to urgently take the necessary steps to restore the international community's trust that its nuclear program is peaceful in nature."

Iran's foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, said in New York that his country would issue an official response to an offer by the United States and five other powers — Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia — to return to talks aimed at ending the stalemate over Iran's nuclear program. But he gave no indication that Iran would suspend its uranium enrichment, a prerequisite set by the other nations involved.

Tensions with Iran also increased Sunday over its seizure of 15 British military personnel in waters off Iraq. Senior Iranian officials said the government was considering charging them with illegally entering its waters. Prime Minister Tony Blair denied that the navy personnel had been in Iranian waters and said that Iran should be aware that Britain considered the seizure of the sailors and marines a very serious act.