Tehran to resume nuclear fuel research

TEHRAN (AFP) — Iran said it would resume nuclear fuel research on Monday, triggering fresh Western warnings that Tehran could face sanctions and wreck dialogue to end a dispute over its controversial nuclear programme.
“The possibility of… sanctions continues to exist. But… this should be a last resort,” said Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schussel whose country is the incoming EU president.

Iran’s announcement coincided with the suspension of talks with Russia aimed at seeking a compromise over Iranian uranium enrichment, a key phase in the fuel cycle.

“Today, under the supervision of the agency, research activities will resume,” government spokesman Gholam Hossein Elham said, referring to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN nuclear watchdog.

Iran has asked the IAEA to have inspectors ready to witness the removal of UN-supervised seals at its research centres, although as the suspension was voluntary, IAEA inspectors are not required to supervise the procedure.

But Hossein Entezami, spokesman for the National Security Council which is in charge of the nuclear file, said Iran was counting on the UN watchdog agency’s cooperation to resume its research. “I hope that the agency [IAEA] will do the necessary so that the research activities resume today,” he told AFP.

Europe has warned that the move, which would end a two-year suspension, would jeopardise any resumption of wider talks on ending the crisis with the West over Iran’s nuclear activities.

Germany, which along with Britain and France makes up the EU troika leading negotiations with Iran, warned that the decision “cannot remain without consequence” and that Berlin would discuss the move with London and Paris.

“This marks a breach of Tehran’s commitments,” Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said.

And IAEA chief Mohammad Al Baradei said Monday he was “losing patience” with what he called Iran’s lack of transparency.

He told Sky News television in an interview recorded before Iran’s announcement but to be broadcast at 8:00pm (2000 GMT) Monday that he still needed clarification about Tehran’s actions.

“There are still a number of important issues where I have not been able to make progress and I still need very much Iran’s transparency and Iran’s active cooperation,” he told the programme, according to a transcript seen by AFP.

Washington, which accuses Iran of seeking to build nuclear weapons, has also said any resumption of research into the fuel cycle might spur it to seek Iran’s referral to the UN Security Council for enforcement action. But supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei voiced defiance, saying Iran would not give up its nuclear programme.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran will not give up its undeniable rights to peaceful nuclear technology, which has been achieved by the talented youth of the country,” Khamenei said in Tehran.

“The ones who are invoking sanctions have sanctioned Iran whenever they could… but these sanctions have resulted in Iranian youth’s self-reliance, therefore such sanctions have no effect,” the powerful leader said.

Iran has been trying to draw a distinction between research into the fuel cycle and actual production of enriched uranium, which can be used as fuel in civil reactors or, in highly enriched form, as the explosive core of an atom bomb.

The announcement came after talks between Russia and Iran on a proposed compromise to end the row over uranium enrichment broke off without result Sunday, although they are to resume in a month.

“Negotiations to reach a final conclusion are going to be continued on February 16 in Moscow,” Entezami said.

“Negotiations ended on Sunday after three rounds of talks, which resulted in some understandings,” he was quoted in Monday’s press as saying.

Moscow is proposing that Tehran carry out uranium enrichment on Russian territory to allay Western fears that the technology could allow Iran to produce a nuclear bomb.

Both the European Union and the United States have backed the proposal in principle. In recent weeks, Iranian officials have blown hot and cold about the proposed compromise.

Iran military top brass killed in plane crash

TEHRAN (AFP) — Several top brass in Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards were among 11 people killed in a military plane crash in the northwest of the country on Monday, the second such deadly incident in barely a month.

The plane came down near Orumiyeh in a mountainous region of northwestern Iran after the pilot lost control following landing gear problems, and all 11 people aboard were killed, officials said.

“The plane was carrying eight Revolutionary Guards commanders and three members of the crew. Rescue workers are on the scene but some of the bodies have not yet been identified,” said Jamshid Mohammadzadeh, deputy governor of West Azerbaijan province.

Among the victims were Ahmad Kazemi, the commander of the Revolutionary Guards ground forces, and seven top commanders, including an intelligence chief.

The crash came barely a month after a decrepit Iranian military transport plane plunged into the foot of a high-rise housing block in Tehran after suffering engine failure.

A total of 108 people were killed in the December 6 incident, which raised concerns across the country about the state of the planes used by the military.

Monday’s crash occurred at around 9:30am (0600 GMT) near the village of Aidinloo and was due to a problem with the landing gear, the province’s governor Rahim Ghorbani, was quoted as saying by the official IRNA news agency.

“The wheels would not open and the pilot wanted to land the plane on earthy ground, but he lost control, the plane crashed and was smashed to pieces,” Ghorbani said.

Revolutionary Guards spokesman Masoud Jazayeri said on state television “the bad weather conditions as well as technical problems were responsible for the crash, which happened near the Orumiyeh airport.”

The area around Orumiyeh, near the border with Turkey, is mountainous and weather conditions there are notoriously bad during the winter months.

“Before the crash the pilot had informed the Orumiyeh control tower of the technical problems and that two of the engines had broken down,” MP Reza Talai-Nik, head of the parliamentary defence committee, was quoted as saying by the Mehr news agency.

The Revolutionary Guards Corps was set up in the wake of the 1979 revolution to defend the Islamic republic from “internal and external threats.” It is now one of Iran’s most powerful institutions and counts an estimated 350,000 men.

Iranian media said the Hercules plane involved in December’s crash — bought from the United States before the Islamic revolution and starved of spare parts — had been ordered to fly despite warnings from its pilot.

Defence Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najar had faced possible impeachment over the crash but the motion was subsequently taken off the parliamentary agenda.

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