Sunday, July 10, 2005

Iran should soon resume sensitive nuclear activities

Iran has managed to ease concerns that it is seeking nuclear weapons and therefore should soon resume sensitive enrichment activity.

"Previously there were many ambiguities in Iran's case, but today many of the ambiguities have been removed," Alaeddin Borujerdi, the head of the hardline Iranian parliament's foreign affairs commission, told the student news agency ISNA.

"Therefore, more than before, the conditions have now become prepared so that we can once again resume our activities under the (UN atomic energy) agency's regulations," Borujerdi said Sunday.

Borujerdi, a former deputy foreign minister and special envoy to Afghanistan, has been tipped as a possible foreign minister in the cabinet of hardline president-elect Mahmood Ahmadinejad, who takes office in August.

"The Islamic republic should make more effort to put an end to the voluntary suspension," he told ISNA.

Iran Regards Russia as Possible Partner to Build 20 Nuclear Power Plants

Russia is a likely partner in a plan envisaging construction of 20 nuclear power plants in Iran, a senior member of Iran’s parliament was quoted by Agence France Presse as saying.

“A plan has been approved in parliament obliging the government to study the possibility of building 20 nuclear power stations ... Various countries, including Russia, can participate and we hope Russia will continue to cooperate with us on this question,” Kazem Jalali, head of the Iranian parliament’s foreign affairs committee, said.

Jalali was speaking during a visit by an Iranian delegation to the Russian capital aimed at developing economic ties between the two countries.

Russia is constructing Iran’s first nuclear reactor at Bushehr, part of a technological cooperation agreement with Tehran in 2002 that opened the way for construction of up to five reactors over the coming 10 years.

Both the U.S. and Israel have objected to the building of the Bushehr reactor, which could be turned on next year, as they claim Iran is secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons and that having such a facility will be a proliferation risk.

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 Organisation, 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.

"Iran's request to temporarily remove seals at some parts of the Isfahan's (uranium conversion) facility is not related to the suspension," Saeedi told Reuters by telephone.

"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 programme as a front to develop nuclear weapons and have called on Iran to cease all sensitive atomic work. Tehran says its programme is peaceful and refuses to give up its sovereign right to a full atomic programme.

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," U.S. 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 towards Iran, and the strength of the seam line between the EU3 and the IAEA."

Iran Protests Austrian Probe of New Leader

Tehran leaders sharply protested Austria's investigation into claims that Iran's ultraconservative president-elect was involved in the assassination of a Kurdish opposition leader, warning Vienna on Tuesday not to damage ties between the two countries.

Foreign Ministry officials summoned Austria's ambassador in Tehran to a meeting in which they said "such allegations are tantamount to following Washington" in its critical line against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who won a landslide victory last month, state-run Iranian television reported.

"One should not allow the good relations between the two countries to be disrupted by allegations provided by Zionist elements," ministry officials told the ambassador, according to the report.

Austrian prosecutors on Tuesday said they were investigating new information in the 1989 slaying of Iranian Kurdish politician Abdul-Rahman Ghassemlou brought to their attention by an Austrian lawmaker who claims Iran's president-elect was linked to the assassination.

Ghassemlou and two colleagues were gunned down July 13, 1989, in Vienna.

Ahmadinejad has dismissed as "baseless" claims that he had any role in the slaying of the dissidents. He has also rejected separate accusations of being involved in the 1979 hostage-taking of Americans at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran — claims made by several of the former captives.

Iran has denounced the claims against Ahmadinejad as part of a campaign engineered by the United States and Israel to smear the new leader, who on Tuesday said the allegations be put to rest.

"The world has to bow down and respect the will of the Iranian nation," Ahmadinejad said in a meeting with Foreign Ministry officials, according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency.

The new leader received a key message of support Tuesday from Iran's powerful hard-line Revolutionary Guards, a force independent of the military and with a broad mandate to confront external and domestic "dangers" confronting the 1979 Islamic Revolution. They are allied with the "Basijis," a corps of vigilantes who enforce the Iranian regime's Islamic strictures.

"It's necessary to declare the readiness of the green-uniform Guards and capable Basijis ... to support and cooperate with Your Excellency's serving government," Brig. Gen. Rahim Safavi, head of the guards, said in a congratulatory message to Ahmadinejad, state media reported Tuesday.

The 200,000-member Republican Guards report directly to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The guards' welcome of Ahmadinejad came in stark contrast to their threat four years ago to confront supporters of outgoing reformist President Mohammad Khatami with "a hammer on their skull" if they threatened Iran's Islamic regime.

Ahmadinejad's election victory brought increased concern in Europe and the United States that Iran will take an even tougher line with the West — and tensions have been increased by the multiple accusations against him.

A spokesman for the Vienna prosecutor's office confirmed an investigation was under way as a result of new information provided by Peter Pilz of the opposition Green party concerning the assassination of Ghassemlou.

"We must check the information to see if the information provided by the witnesses is correct," said the spokesman, Ernst Kloyber.

Iranian president-elect rejects allegations, warns West

While rejecting all charges, Iranian president- elect Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Monday warned the West over recent allegations against him on involvement in the US embassy siege and assassination of a Kurdish leader.


“Such totally baseless allegations by some Western circles despite having access to most advanced security and intelligence systems is indeed quite questionable,” Ahmadinejad was quoted by the ISNA news agency as saying in a first direct reaction to the allegations.

Ahmadinejad has been accused by the US of having been one of the hostage takers in the 1979 seizure of the US embassy in Teheran. He is also accused by Austrian political circles of involvement in the 1989 assassination of a Kurdish leader in Vienna.

“We are after good ties with all countries, including Europe, but we advise all Western governments to moderate their positioning so that the Iranian people can still regard them as credible,” Ahmadinejad said in a meeting with parliament deputies.

He expressed wonder at Western governments who claim democracy but show disrespect towards the democratic choice of 30 million people in Iran’s presidential elections.

Britain, Germany: Iran Talks Will Go On

Britain and Germany said Monday that allegations recently raised against Iran's president-elect have not been proven and won't affect Europe's negotiations with Tehran over its nuclear program.

The comments came a day after Iran accused the U.S. and Israel of a smear campaign against the ultraconservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and warned Europe not to join in the mudslinging.

Ahmadinejad, who won a landslide presidential election victory, has been accused of taking American hostages in 1979 when radical students seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. Iranian exiles and an Austrian politician also have alleged he was involved in the 1989 slaying of a Kurdish leader and two associates in Vienna.

Iranian officials have denied both allegations.