Controversial moves by the Iranian regime to restart a nuclear fuel cycle facility have prompted a swathe of criticism from the West, including comments from US president Bush that he was “very deeply suspicious” of the Iranian decision.

Meanwhile, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) board of governors passed a resolution put forward by the EU3 of France, Germany and the UK, which calls on Iran to immediately suspend its enrichment-related activities. The resolution requests IAEA director general Mohammed ElBaradei to “provide a comprehensive report on the implementation of Iran’s NPT Safeguards Agreement and this resolution by 3 September 2005.”

Should Iran be referred to the United Nations (UN), a scenario of economic sanctions is unlikely to pass given the civil nuclear ambitions of a number of Security Council members. The resolution, however, does not call for to be referred to the UN.

Despite America’s suspicions, so far Iran has not violated its legal obligations by ending what has always been a voluntary agreement to suspend enrichment operations. Furthermore, work at its Isfahan nuclear facility is being performed in the presence of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors who had been permitted to install surveillance cameras. Iran started to feed uranium ore concentrate (UOC) into the first part of the process line at the Uranium Conversion Facility (UCF) following the installation of IAEA cameras covering the input stage of the UOC process line, but prior to completion of the in situ testing of the cameras.

ElBaradei confirmed that Iran has removed the seals on the process lines and the UF4 at the Uranium Conversion Facility (UCF) in Isfahan. He also reported that the surveillance equipment at the UCF is fully functional and that the UOC has been verified by the agency.

ElBaradei also released a statement in which he expresses hopes that the latest developments are “simply a hiccup in the process and not a permanent rupture” and called on all parties to exercise maximum restraint, desist from taking any unilateral actions and continue the negotiation process.

The EU3 however, described the moves as a matter of deep regret for the EU saying: “We do not believe that Iran has any operational need to engage in fissile material production activities of its own, nor any other reason to resume activity at Isfahan, if the intentions of its nuclear programme are exclusively peaceful. Iran currently has no operating nuclear power plant and has concluded an agreement with the Russian Federation assuring the supply of fuel for the reactor at Bushehr, which is still under construction. Any such resumption of currently suspended activities, including uranium conversion, will only further heighten international concern about the real objective of Iran’s nuclear programme.”

Newly inaugurated president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has suggested that the country might be ready to negotiate international safeguards for the nuclear programme, but this looks far from enough to satisfy the West over the full extent Iran’s nuclear ambitions.