Sunday, October 24, 2004

ABC News: Iran Says Uranium Facility Almost Complete

ABC News: Iran Says Uranium Facility Almost Complete: "Iran Says Uranium Facility Almost CompleteIran Says Uranium Conversion Facility 70 Percent Complete Just Days After Offer From EuropeThe Associated Press

TEHRAN, Iran Oct 24, 2004 — A uranium conversion facility in Iran is nearing completion, a top official said Sunday, only days after European countries offered a deal in which Iran would reportedly have to give up all nuclear activities.

State-run radio quoted Mohammed Ghannadi, second in charge of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, as saying the Isfahan uranium conversion facility in central Iran was nearing completion.

"The Isfahan UCF facility is operational by 70 percent right now," Ghannadi told 21 lawmakers during a visit to the plant, which Iranian officials said was inaugurated in March.

Ghannadi was quoted as saying 21 of 24 workshops have been commissioned at the facility, which converts uranium powder called yellow cake into hexafluoride gas, a stage prior to enrichment. He did not elaborate.

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In talks Thursday in Austria, envoys from Britain, France and Germany offered civilian nuclear technology and a trade deal to the Iranians reportedly in return for Iran permanently giving up all uranium enrichment activities technology that can be used to produce nuclear fuel or nuclear weapons.

"The proposal by the Europeans is unbalanced," Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told a news conference on Sunday. "However, the Europeans have chosen the correct path of dialogue."

Iran's nuclear program is now a matter of national pride, and is one of the few issues on which hard-liners and reformists agree. The conservative-dominated parliament is drawing up a bill requiring the government to resume uranium enrichment, the only stage in the nuclear fuel cycle that Iran says it is not yet carrying out.

Britain, Germany and France have warned that most European countries will back Washington's call to refer Iran's nuclear dossier to the U.N. Security Council for possible economic sanctions if Iran doesn't give up all uranium enrichment activities by the Nov. 25 meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Iran, Asefi said, was still studying the European proposal.

"We think we have to reach a solution acceptable to both sides so that European concerns are eased and, at the same time, our rights under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty are recognized and met," Asefi added.

The spokesman said Iran had its own proposals but refused to discuss details.

Detailed talks with the three key European powers would resume Wednesday, he said.

Asefi said Iran would not accept a permanent suspension of its nuclear activities, and maintained that the Europeans didn't want that either.

"The discussion is not about permanent suspension of enrichment. The Europeans have proposed indefinite suspension until an agreement is reached. They didn't call for a permanent suspension," he said.

Iran insists its nuclear activities are peaceful and geared solely toward generating electric power. The United States contends it is running a covert atomic weapons program.

Last month, the IAEA unanimously passed a resolution demanding Iran freeze all work on uranium enrichment and related activities, such as uranium reprocessing and the building of centrifuges used for enrichment. The U.N. nuclear watchdog is to judge Iran's compliance at the Nov. 25 meeting.

Iran already has defied the IAEA resolution by continuing to build centrifuges and by converting a few tons of raw uranium into hexafluoride gas, a stage before enrichment.

Iran has said the agency has no authority to ban it from enriching uranium, a right granted under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. However, while not prohibited from enrichment activities under that treaty, Iran faces growing international pressure to suspend them."


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