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Iran wants to break UN seals to test atomic parts
Iran has asked the U.N. nuclear watchdog to let it break U.N. seals and test atomic equipment that has been mothballed under an agreement with the EU's three biggest powers, a senior Iranian official said on Wednesday.
A U.S. official said it appeared Tehran wanted to violate its pledge to suspend all activities linked to the production of enriched-uranium fuel, a technology that can be used in either atomic power plants or weapons.
But the deputy head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, Mohammad Saeedi, said the move had nothing to do with the suspension of nuclear activities it agreed with France, Britain and Germany, representing the European Union.
"We have asked the (International Atomic Energy Agency) to let us remove the seal at some parts of the facility in the presence of the visiting IAEA inspectors. We want to test equipment there to check whether those are functional. It does not mean lifting the suspension," he said.
The United States and the European Union fear Iran is using its nuclear energy program as a front to develop nuclear weapons and have called on Iran to cease all sensitive atomic work. Tehran says its program is peaceful and refuses to give up its sovereign right to a full atomic program.
Diplomats from the three big EU countries have long said testing of machinery used in the nuclear fuel cycle should be frozen under the November suspension agreement signed in Paris.
A diplomat from one of the EU trio said it was unclear how they would react.
"The odds are that we will see this as a maintenance operation that does not amount to a significant breach of the Paris Agreement," the diplomat said.
U.S. WON'T TOLERATE SLIGHTEST BREACH
But Washington made it clear it would not tolerate even a small breach of the Paris Agreement.
"Any contravention of (the) Paris agreement would be a step backwards, not a step forward," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters.
A U.S. official, who asked not to be named because Washington had yet to fully evaluate what the Iranians wanted, said Tehran was apparently asking to break its agreement.
"It looks at first sight that what they're asking for would contravene the Paris Agreement," the official said.
McCormack underscored the U.S. position that Iran should not resume enrichment-related activities.
"We've made very clear ... that conversion and enrichment activities would not be allowed under the Paris Agreement and are specifically forbidden by it," he said.
The diplomat who first informed Reuters about the Iranian request said it was "aimed at testing Europe's degree of flexibility toward Iran, and the strength of the seam line between the EU3 and the IAEA."
The EU trio has promised to give Iran a comprehensive offer of incentives by the end of July or beginning of August in exchange for what they call "objective guarantees" that Tehran's nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only.
The Europeans say this can only be a permanent cessation of all enrichment-related work, including the Isfahan plant, which prepares raw uranium for enrichment.
Separately, several recent intelligence reports accuse North Korea of secretly helping Iran develop its nuclear program, raising fresh concerns about Pyongyang's nuclear proliferation and Tehran's atomic intentions.
"There has been a significant improvement in relations between Iran and North Korea over the past few months," an intelligence report obtained from a non-U.S. diplomat said.