Iran is challenging calls at the ongoing UN conference on the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) in New York for extra controls on nuclear fuel enrichment programs. Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi has asserted his country's right to pursue uranium enrichment for peaceful purposes, saying efforts to cut off this technology are "unacceptable." His statement followed a U.S. call for Iran to cease and dismantle its enrichment program. The speeches on the first two days of the conference to review the 1970 NPT raise doubts about the prospects for progress on one of the chief areas of concern involving the spread of atomic weapons.
Washington, 4 May 2005 (RFE/RL) - A conference aimed at strengthening the global nuclear nonproliferation regime has so far appeared to only feed tensions.
The United States and Iran have clashed on the first two days of the UN conference over the key issue of a state's right to possess dual-use nuclear technology.
A U.S. arms control official said on 2 May that Iran needs to restore global confidence by dismantling its enrichment and reprocessing program.
But Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi told delegates yesterday that his country was "determined" to pursue all legal areas of nuclear technology, including enrichment.
"It is unacceptable that some tend to limit access to peaceful nuclear technology to an exclusive club of technologically advanced states under the pretext of nonproliferation," Kharrazi said.
He added that Iran was claiming its legal right to enrichment activities under the nonproliferation treaty and they would be carried out under the "most intrusive" supervision by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
"Let me make it absolutely clear that arbitrary and self-serving criteria and thresholds regarding proliferation-proof and proliferation-prone technologies and countries can and will only undermine the treaty [NPT]," Kharrazi said.
U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said countries such as Iran face a higher threshold in convincing states of the absence of a covert nuclear program.
"It's not a question of asserting rights here and there," Boucher said. "Iran should be looking at this as how to reassure the international community that they're not going to become a nuclear danger."
Washington and other states say Iran has used its membership in the NPT to disguise a secret program for gaining technology used to produce nuclear weapons. Uranium-enrichment and plutonium-separation programs can also produce weapons-grade fuel.
The United States backs European Union negotiators seeking to persuade Iran to drop its nuclear program in exchange for economic incentives. There are concerns that Iran, like North Korea in 2003, will withdraw from the treaty and start assembling nuclear weapons.
There are dozens of states that operate or are constructing nuclear power or research reactors which could be adapted to nuclear weapons use.
This is a crucial time for Iran to take steps to build trust, said David Albright, president of the nongovernmental Institute for Science and International Security. But so far, he told RFE/RL, the rhetoric at the NPT forum could make matters worse.
"I'm afraid that the nonproliferation treaty review conference could just be a way for the United States and Iran to start - in a sense - symbolically slugging each other with rhetoric rather than an opportunity for the Europeans, with the support of the United States, to negotiate something with Iran," Albright said.
Charles Ferguson, an expert on nuclear disarmament at the independent Council on Foreign Relations, told RFE/RL that the issue of Iran's nuclear activities appears destined for referral to the UN Security Council.
"The question is will Iran actually engage in some of these suspended nuclear activities in the coming weeks during the conference itself to send a message and if that happens then it looks like the talks with the EU will probably unravel," Ferguson said.
On 2 May, the director of the IAEA, Mohammad el-Baradei, proposed putting nuclear fuel production under multilateral control by regional or international bodies. Russia's deputy foreign minister, Sergei Kislyak, yesterday supported the proposal, saying there is no reason to create additional facilities for uranium enrichment.
China's delegate said yesterday that Beijing favors resolving the Iranian nuclear issue within the framework of the IAEA. He expressed support for the EU-Iranian negotiations.
(Fatemeh Aman of Radio Farda contributed to this report.)
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