Iran defies IAEA

The move comes despite an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) demand made several days ago that Iran suspend its uranium enrichment activities.

Iranian atomic energy chief Reza Aghazadeh told reporters in Vienna that tests to convert some 37 tons of uranium yellowcake into uranium hexafluoride gas were going successfully.

The gas provides the key ingredient for enriched uranium, which can be used to fuel civilian reactors or to build the explosive cores of atomic bombs.

The United States has reacted strongly to the statement.

State Department spokesman Kurtis Cooper said that Iran has no operating nuclear plants and “will have no peaceful use for enriched uranium for many years.”

Although Iran is not prohibited from enriching uranium under the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), it has come under increased international pressure to cease enrichment and centrifuge construction until questions are answered about the scope of its nuclear program.

The Iranian President Mohammad Khatami has dispelled fears about the country’s nuclear development as unnecessary, saying that Iran’s intention is for the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

However, Mr Khatami said Tehran was prepared to go ahead with its program even should it lead to the end of international supervision.

As a member of the IAEA, Iran has submitted to supervision of its facilities and last year agreed to a more intensive inspection regime instituted under an additional protocol to the NPT.

Iran’s top nuclear negotiator Hasan Rohwani has threatened that if Iran is referred to the UN Security Council the country will halt the unfettered IAEA inspections, which although agreed to last year are yet to be ratified by parliament.

At the weekend, the IAEA gave Iran a deadline of two months to cease uranium enrichment and related activities or risk being referred to the Security Council and the possibility of sanctions.

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