AFP: Iran has asked the UN atomic agency to exempt several dozen centrifuges from an agreement with the European
Union which went into effect two days ago freezing its nuclear fuel cycle, diplomats told AFP Wednesday. AFP

by Michael Adler

VIENNA - Iran has asked the UN atomic agency to exempt several dozen centrifuges from an agreement with the European Union which went into effect two days ago freezing its nuclear fuel cycle, diplomats told AFP Wednesday.

The development, which has been rejected by the EU, comes ahead of a meeting Thursday of the UN watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to review what was supposed to be a total freeze on uranium enrichment activities.

Under the terms of a deal hammered out with Britain, France and Germany, Tehran was to suspend all uranium enrichment activities from Monday, a move which is now being verified by the IAEA.

The Vienna IAEA talks will also decide whether Iran should be sent to the UN Security Council for possible sanctions, as the United States wants, over its nuclear programme.

But a diplomat who covers the IAEA said the Iranians "are trying to convince the IAEA to leave several dozen of the centrifuges unsealed for R&D (research and development) purposes in addition to other equipment which has direct use for enrichment."

A Western diplomat said it would be "outrageous" if Iran at the last minute exempted some centrifuges, the machines used in enriching uranium, from the suspension.

"It is not acceptable to us," a European diplomat said.

The IAEA's 35-nation board of governors will Thursday hear a European draft resolution based on the suspension agreement and which finally won US backing.

Diplomats said Washington had taken a pragmatic decision to back the European draft, even though it falls short of demanding possible UN sanctions for Iran.

The United States is "just being pragmatic for once, recognizing that the EU3 (Britain, Germany, France) text is pretty good and that there are few good policy alternatives to joining consensus on it," a Western diplomat said.





The United States has for over a year been trying to get the IAEA board to take Iran before the Security Council, but non-aligned states, as well as the European trio and Russia and China, have opposed this, saying Iran must be given a chance to cooperate with a two-year-old IAEA investigation of its nuclear program.

Iran maintains its nuclear program is strictly peaceful and the head of Iran's hardline parliament warned Wednesday that deputies would press for a resumption of enrichment if the country comes under too much pressure at the IAEA meeting.

The EU has promised Iran a long-term deal, including increased trade and peaceful nuclear technology, if it maintains suspension of enrichment.

Enriched uranium, made by spinning uranium gas in what can be cascades of thousands of centrifuges, can serve as fuel for nuclear reactors or as the raw explosive material for atomic bombs.

IAEA inspectors were Wednesday racing to seal some 1,000 centrifuges in Iran, spread in workshops in some three different locations, in time to verify the suspension for Thursday's board meeting.

A diplomat close to the IAEA said: "It is up to Iran to define what it wants the IAEA to do or not to do," since it is only monitoring the agreement reached with the EU."

The IAEA "will report on what it has reached" in terms of verification, the diplomat said.

The diplomat refused to say exactly what sort of research Iran wants to do with the centrifuges, but that this would probably be for testing and not actually to enrich uranium.

The IAEA would still be able to inspect any centrifuges left out of the suspension in order to verify that they were not being used to divert nuclear material, he said.

Under IAEA investigation since February 2003, Iran agreed in October 2003 to suspend the actual enrichment of uranium but continued support activities such as making centrifuges and converting yellowcake into uranium gas.