Iranians defy U.N. deadline

The Baltimore Sun

VIENNA, Austria -- Iran defied a United Nations deadline for suspending uranium enrichment and has not cooperated with inspectors trying to assess whether its program is for peaceful purposes, the United Nations' nuclear watchdog reported yesterday.

Iran's defiance of yesterday's deadline, while hardly unexpected, officially marks the start of the Security Council debate over international sanctions against the Islamic Republic; the United States has taken the lead in the campaign to penalize Iran. China and Russia, both with veto power, have expressed misgivings about any move in that direction.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said yesterday that his country "will not accept for one moment any bullying, invasion and violation of its rights." Speaking to a crowd in the northern Iranian city of Orumiyeh, he urged defiance and described the United States as "the main source of the problems of mankind."

President Bush, speaking in Salt Lake City, described Iran as a "grave threat" to the world, and he called on other nations to help stop Iran. "There must be consequences for Iran's defiance," he said. "And we must not allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons."

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John R. Bolton said that the Security Council would not start discussing possible sanctions until next week, after the foreign policy chief of the European Union, Javier Solana, is to meet with Ali Larijani, Iran's top nuclear negotiator.

The International Atomic Energy Agency report said Iran continues to enrich uranium at its Natanz facility and continues to refuse inspectors access to individuals who are key to answering questions about the nuclear program. It also has refused or delayed requests by inspectors to review records and take uranium samples so that experts can assess the percentage of enrichment Iran has achieved - information necessary for evaluating whether Iran's program might have a military aspect.

Uranium when enriched to low levels can be used to generate electricity, but when more highly enriched it can be used as the core of an atomic weapon.

The report also raised questions about newly detected highly enriched uranium on some equipment recently tested by inspectors.

There was "no progress at all this summer - nothing in terms of substantive progress," said a senior official close to the IAEA, referring to Iran's failure to answer long-standing questions and assuage fears that it might be attempting to gain the expertise to manufacture a nuclear weapon.

Iran operated a clandestine nuclear program for 18 years before it was uncovered in 2002. Since then, the IAEA has been trying to learn whether it was intended for civilian purposes including the generation of nuclear power, as Iran has said.

Many countries believe that Iran is attempting to gain the capability to make a bomb.

The council had set yesterday as the deadline for Iran to suspend uranium enrichment. A senior official close to the IAEA said that as of Tuesday, when inspectors last checked, Iran was continuing to feed uranium gas into centrifuges used to isolate an isotope of uranium needed for nuclear reaction.

Iran has enriched only "tens of grams" of uranium, said a senior official close to the IAEA. The IAEA report said Iran has reported enriching uranium to a level far below what would be required for use in a bomb. But inspectors have not been able to verify that claim.

The U.S. has called for the swift enactment of economic sanctions. But with other countries leery of confrontation, Washington is advocating relatively mild moves initially.

The first step would be an import ban on nuclear or missile-related materials and perhaps a travel ban or asset freeze for key Iranian officials, U.S. officials said.

But Russia's defense minister, Sergei Ivanov, said last week that the situation in Iran is "not urgent," and that sanctions are rarely effective. Even France and Germany, usually allies of the United States on Iran policy, appear reluctant to move quickly.

Alissa J. Rubin and Maggie Farley write for the Los Angeles Times.

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