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Iran: UN to remove seals on nuclear facilities by Monday
Iran said that inspectors from the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency would remove seals from some nuclear facilities by Monday, opening the way for Tehran to resume research on fuel production.
The development Sunday heightened concerns in the West that Iran was moving toward building atomic weapons.
"Iran is ready to resume the research activities after the inspectors remove the seals," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said. "It is our right as (much as) other members of the Nonproliferation Treaty. Iran should not be exempted."
Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency arrived in Tehran on Saturday to remove seals they had affixed to the research sites after Iran voluntarily agreed to stop all enrichment-related activities more than two years ago as a confidence-building measure.
The Iranians have maintained they will never give up their right under the Nonproliferation Treaty to enrich uranium and produce nuclear fuel, but the IAEA and most of its members want Tehran to maintain the freeze because of growing fears it will misuse enrichment to make weapons.
Iran told the IAEA last week it would resume research Monday, and officials said talks with the inspectors over restarting the research could wrap up by Monday at the latest, the official Islamic Republic News Agency said. Iran has not specified the type of research.
Tehran says its nuclear program is for electricity generation, while the U.S. and Europe suspect Iran is moving to produce nuclear bombs. The U.S. and France have pushed for taking Iran before the U.N. Security Council, which could impose sanctions if Tehran is found in violation of the Nonproliferation Treaty.
Asefi said Iran's research would respect regulations set by the U.N. watchdog and the treaty. "The activities will be under supervision of the agency, therefore there is nothing to be worried about," he said.
In Vienna, Austria, the tug of war continued Sunday between Iran and the IAEA, which asked for additional details about what Tehran planned to do with its enrichment equipment.
IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said the agency had received additional information since Saturday, when Tehran first gave the agency some specifics, but it still sought more.
On Thursday, a high-ranking Iranian delegation failed to show up for a scheduled meeting with IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei, reneging on a pledge to provide full details of its plans.
Russian officials in Iran, meanwhile, continued talks about Moscow's proposal that the two countries conduct uranium enrichment, a process that can produce nuclear fuel for reactors or atomic weapons depending on the degree of enrichment, on Russian territory.
Officials from the two countries plan to meet again in Moscow on February 16, state-run Iranian TV said.
The Russian proposal, backed by the European Union and the United States, was designed to ease concerns that Iran would use the fuel to build a bomb.
But Iran's senior nuclear negotiator said the country still wants the fuel cycle on its own soil. "Iran's right on nuclear fuel, especially enrichment, inside the country has to be guaranteed in any proposal," Javad Vaidi told state-run radio.
IRNA said Iran still had questions about what it has called "ambiguities" in the proposal, adding "Iran has raised new questions on the proposal that the Russian side could not convincingly answer."
Hossein Ghafourian, head of the nuclear research center of Iran's atomic energy organization, pledged to press on with plans to continue its peaceful program.
"Blocking research activities is similar to blocking the light," Ghafourian told state-run radio on Sunday.
Javier Solana, the European Union foreign and security affairs chief, told Iran on Saturday that if it resumes its uranium enrichment program, it may doom any further negotiations with the 25-nation bloc about economic aid and other issues.