Iran facing sanctions as European attitude hardens

18 May 2005

Plans to restart some uranium conversion work in Iran, a precursor to uranium enrichment, have sparked diplomatic warnings of UN Security Council involvement.

The fuel production processes had been frozen for the past six months as part of an interim deal with the European Union, but comments attributed to a senior Iranian nuclear official suggest the country could announce a resumption of such activity at any moment.

This follows the adoption of a bill on gaining nuclear technology and requiring the government to maintain the nuclear fuel production cycle for producing up to 20GWe from nuclear power. Although the ruling failed to set out a specific date and time for the start of the uranium enrichment process, European countries have expressed their explicit opposition to resumption of the nuclear fuel production cycle.

The comments are believed to refer to work at a uranium conversion facility near Isfahan that is used to convert mined uranium yellowcake into uranium tetrafluoride and then into uranium hexafluoride, a feed gas for enrichment centrifuges.

Britain, France and Germany are negotiating on behalf of the European Union and have called a crisis meeting scheduled for 23 May to be held in a European capital. What have previously been seen as moderate voices, the three European nations have warned that the move to resume enrichment would spark its referral to the UN Security Council, which could impose sanctions. However, Iran feels there is little hope of reaching an agreement, saying the Europeans are hostage to the hardline USA position, especially as more than 200 members of the House of Representatives are co-sponsoring a bill that would tighten and codify existing sanctions, and bar subsidiaries of US companies from doing business in Iran.

The Iranian bill was approved by 188 of the 205 deputies but still needs approval from the hard-line Guardian Council to become law. No date has been set for the council's decision but it was widely expected to be in favour of the measure.

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