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Archive for Sunday, September 12, 2004

Europe gives Iran nuclear deadline

September 12, 2004

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— Europe's major powers have agreed to set a November deadline on Iran to meet demands meant to resolve concerns that it is secretly trying to make nuclear weapons, in a confidential document made available Saturday to The Associated Press.

The draft resolution was prepared by France, Germany and Britain for Monday's start of a key meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog.

The draft contains a so-called "trigger mechanism," warning of possible "further steps" -- which diplomats defined as shorthand for referral of Iran's case to the U.N. Security Council.

The draft is likely to undergo changes before the three nations submit it at the board meeting of the IAEA. And it still has to be approved by two thirds of the 35 board members.

But it is significant because it puts the three European countries the closest they have formally been to the United States on what to do about Iran and activities that Washington insists show Tehran is trying build the nuclear bomb.

Up to now, the European countries have resisted U.S. attempts to have Iran hauled before the Security Council or even hint on a date for such possible action.

Iran says its nuclear program is solely for energy production.

The draft says Iran must suspend all activities related to nuclear enrichment -- including manufacturing of centrifuges -- and must meet all requirements posed by the IAEA in its probe into Iran's nuclear activities before IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei reports to the board again in November.

On the basis of ElBaradei's report, the board will "probably" make a "definite determination on whether or not further steps are required," the draft said.

"This is a 'trigger' that can be pulled if the November board deems it necessary," said one diplomat.

While the last board meeting in June censured Iran for past cover-ups and warned it has little time left to disprove it has a nuclear weapons program, it didn't impose a deadline or even indirectly threaten sanctions.

But since then, Iran's earlier commitments to stop some uranium enrichment and related activities have eroded -- alienating the three European nations.

Enriched uranium can be used to generate electricity or make nuclear weapons. Iran last year agreed to freeze enrichment programs but has since resumed testing, assembling and making centrifuges, a key component of such activities. Last week, it confirmed an IAEA report that it planned to convert more than 40 tons of raw uranium into uranium hexafluoride, the gas put into centrifuges for enrichment.

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