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Iran says will finally suspend uranium enrichment
( 2003-11-10 09:35) (Agencies)

Iran, suspected by Washington of covertly working on an atomic bomb, said on Sunday it would suspend its disputed uranium enrichment program in the coming days, a promise first made last month but yet to be fulfilled.

"Iran will announce and consequently suspend its uranium enrichment in the coming days," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said at a weekly news conference.

Tehran pledged on Saturday to give the U.N. nuclear watchdog letters next week making official its acceptance of tougher nuclear inspections and a suspension of its uranium enrichment program, but said nothing about the timing of the suspension.

Diplomats in Vienna, where the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is located, have told Reuters they were losing patience with Iran for stalling the suspension of uranium enrichment activities, which Washington believes are at the heart of a secret atomic weapons program.

Last year, U.S. President Bush branded Iran part of an "axis of evil" with North Korea and pre-war Iraq. Iran denies it wants an atom bomb and says its nuclear ambitions are peaceful.

On October 21, Iranian officials told the foreign ministers of Germany, France and Britain that Tehran would not only sign the Additional Protocol permitting tougher U.N. inspections, but would temporarily stop enriching uranium to build confidence.

The IAEA board of governors had requested this suspension twice, first in June and again in a tough September 12 resolution that set an October 31 deadline for Iran to give the IAEA a full declaration of all nuclear activities.

Enrichment is a process of purifying uranium to make it usable as nuclear fuel or in weapons.

Although it was assumed that the suspension would take place immediately, it did not. It turned out there was disagreement on what the suspension should entail.

The French, Germans and British wanted all enrichment operations halted, whereas Iran wanted only to halt its enrichment centrifuges and continue research work.

But on Saturday IAEA chief Mohamed El Baradei told reporters Iran had agreed to a "suspension of all enrichment-related activities," which clearly implies more than simply shutting down enrichment centrifuges, but includes related research and development work.


Separately, Hassan Rohani, head of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, spoke to Iran's state television in Vienna and said Tehran would give the IAEA a letter this week confirming its intention to sign the Additional Protocol.

This addendum to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which Tehran signed in 1970, would give IAEA inspectors the right to conduct more intrusive, short-notice inspections of declared and undeclared nuclear sites.

The protocol was created after the 1991 discovery of Iraq's secret atomic weapons program. The IAEA experts realized at the time that in order to track down secret weapons activities, they must visit facilities not listed as official nuclear sites.

However, Rohani made it clear that Iran's acceptance was not unconditional and that the IAEA would not have access to facilities it says are not related to its nuclear industry.

"In this letter, it will also be stressed that the agency has no right to inspect places which are not related to Iran's nuclear activities," Rohani said.

A Western diplomat told Reuters in Vienna this went against the IAEA board's request that Iran "immediately and unconditionally" sign the protocol. He added that Rohani's statement raised questions about whether Iran really intends to open its nuclear program or not.

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