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Iran may delay resumption of nuclear work
TEHRAN - Iran appeared to be backing away from its threat to defy an agreement with the European Union and immediately resume sensitive nuclear work, after being warned of UN Security Council action.
"It is possible that this resumption is delayed for a while," Gholam Reza Aghazadeh, a vice president and head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation, was quoted as saying Friday by state television.
He nevertheless said that Iran was "certain" to eventually resume certain activities tied to the conversion of uranium ore -- a precursor to enriching for either civilian or military purposes -- but did not give any date.
Iranian nuclear negotiator Cyrus Nasseri told AFP from the Vienna headquarters of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that negotiations were continuing.
A spokesman for Iran's Supreme National Security Council, the body charged with handling the Islamic republic's tough nuclear diplomacy, said Iran still wished to officially inform the IAEA that it was resuming conversion at a plant near the central city and ancient Persian capital of Isfahan.
The Isfahan facility is used to convert mined uranium "yellowcake" into uranium tetrafluoride (UF4) and then into uranium hexafluoride (UF6), a feed gas for centrifuges that carry out the highly sensitive enrichment process.
However the national security council spokesman, Ali Agha Mohammadi, also did not give a date. The previous day, officials said activities could restart "momentarily".
"Iran is determined to submit to the IAEA a letter that concerns a resumption of a part of our suspended activities," he was quoted as saying by state television.
He also said Iran was giving Britain, France and Germany -- with whom the suspension was agreed in November 2004 -- until the end of the day to "change their position" demanding Iran abandon fuel cycle work altogether.
Iran says it wants to master the enrichment process to produce fuel for reactors. But the technology could also be diverted to making the explosive core of a bomb.
In a letter to Tehran, Britain, France and Germany warned that any violation of their accord with Iran would have "consequences" for the country.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair said that would entail supporting "referral to the UN Security Council if Iran breaches its undertakings and obligations".
"Iran's rights cannot be trampled on... because of the threats of three countries and a big power," Mohammadi said, referring to the EU-3 and United States. "Iran is not afraid of its case being sent to the UN Security Council."
The EU has offered Iran a package of incentives in return for "objective guarantees" it will not develop weapons.
But Iran has expressed frustration with the pace of the negotiations, which remain deadlocked over Iran's ambition to master the full nuclear fuel cycle and European demands that Iran abandon such work altogether.
The stand-off has worsened after the so-called EU-3 last month rejected an Iranian proposal to begin a phased resumption of enrichment. Iran complained the talks were being deliberately dragged out so as to keep the freeze in place.
If Iran does defy its accord with the EU, a diplomat said the issue would likely first go before the IAEA's 35-nation board of governors.
However the EU-3 and the United States -- which has long alleged Iran is using a nuclear power drive as a cover for weapons development -- would still need to convince non-alligned states more sympathetic to Iran to refer the dossier to the UN Security Council.
Finding a consensus on a tough resolution within the Security Council could also prove difficult, with Russia eager to protect its 800-million dollar contract to build Iran's first atomic power plant.
"The diplomatic process is not over, and I want to emphasise that," an EU diplomat told AFP. "Even if it does have to go the the Security Council, it just means the diplomacy is getting very serious."