VIENNA, Austria, AP -Iran has told the International Atomic Energy Agency to remove surveillance cameras and agency seals from sites and nuclear equipment by the end of next week in response to referral to the U.N. Security Council, the agency said Monday.
Iran’s demands came two days after the IAEA reported Tehran to the council over its disputed atomic program.
In a confidential report to the IAEA’s 35-member board on Monday, agency head Mohamed ElBaradei said Iran also announced a sharp reduction in the number and kind of IAEA inspections, effective immediately. The report was made available to The Associated Press.
Iranian officials had repeatedly warned they would stop honoring the so-called “Additional Protocol” to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty — an agreement giving IAEA inspectors greater authority — if the IAEA board referred their country to the council.
A diplomat close to the Vienna-based IAEA told the AP that Iran had also moved forward on another threat — formally setting a date for resuming full-scale work on its uranium enrichment program. Iran says it wants to make fuel through enrichment, but the activity can also generate the nuclear core of warheads.
The diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the matter was confidential, refused to divulge the date.
Robert G. Joseph, the U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control, said Monday that Iran used negotiations with the European Union to play for time and develop its capabilities.
“I would say that Iran does have the capability to develop nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them,” he said in a response to a question.
In Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he was still hopeful that Iran will take confidence-building measures with the IAEA.
“It’s not the end of the road,” Annan said of the Security Council referral. “I hope that in between, Iran will take steps that will help create an environment and confidence-building measures that will bring the partners back to the negotiating table.”
In his brief report, ElBaradei cited E. Khalilipour, vice president of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, as saying: “From the date of this letter, all voluntarily suspended non-legally binding measures including the provisions of the Additional Protocol and even beyond that will be suspended.”
Calling on the agency to sharply reduce the number of inspectors in Iran, Khalilipour added: “All the Agency’s containment and surveillance measures which were in place beyond the normal Agency safeguards measures should be removed by mid-February 2006.”
Earlier, Russia’s foreign minister warned against threatening Iran after Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld reportedly agreed with an interviewer at the German daily newspaper Handelsblatt that all options, including military response, remained on the table.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called for talks to continue with Tehran, adding: “I think that at the current stage, it is important not to make guesses about what will happen and even more important not to make threats.”
U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar (news, bio, voting record), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, urged the Security Council to impose strict sanctions on Iran if it fails to comply with U.N. resolutions and arms agreements and warned that inaction would greatly increase the chances of military conflict. He nonetheless stressed that the United States favors a diplomatic solution.
“Diplomatic and economic confrontations are preferable to military ones,” Lugar said. But he cautioned that “in the field of nonproliferation, decisions delayed over the course of months and years may be as harmful as no decisions at all.”
The Additional Protocol was signed by Iranian officials in 2003 as pressure intensified on Tehran to cooperate with IAEA inspectors probing more than 18 years of clandestine nuclear activities.
The protocol gives the agency inspecting powers beyond normal, allowing for inspections on short notice of areas and programs suspected of being misused for weapons activity.
North Korea — the world’s other major proliferation concern — quit the Nonproliferation Treaty in January 2003, just a few months before U.S. officials announced that Pyongyang had told them it had nuclear weapons and may test, export or use them depending on U.S. actions.
Iranian officials have repeatedly said they will continue honoring the Nonproliferation Treaty. Still, the agreements linked to that treaty are insufficient for agency inspectors trying to establish whether Iran has had a secret nuclear arms program.
Unless Iran relents, the move to curtail voluntary cooperation means that ElBaradei will be stymied in trying to close the Iran nuclear file by March. And that could backfire on Tehran.
Russia and China agreed to Security Council referral on condition that the council take no action until March, when the IAEA board next meets. But if ElBaradei reports to that March 6 meeting that he was unable to make progress in establishing whether Iran constitutes a nuclear threat, the council will likely start to pressure Iran, launching a process that could end in sanctions.