May 23, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- The UN Security Council's 60-day deadline expires on May 24 for Iran to suspend all uranium-enrichment work, but defiant Iranian officials have already spurned the UN demand, saying the controversial program is going ahead.
Details are expected in a report by UN nuclear experts to be presented later today, and the end result may be new and harsher sanctions on Iran.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is sending a report to the United Nations Security Council on whether Iran has complied with a UN order to halt uranium enrichment.
The report is expected to say that Iran has not stopped enrichment. Quite the contrary, says regional analyst Mark Fitzpatrick, of the International Institute of Strategic Studies in London.
"The report will say that Iran has not met the deadline for suspension imposed in the latest Security Council resolution, and that in fact it has greatly increased the number of centrifuges installed [at the uranium-enrichment facility] at Natanz, and that it is moving rapidly to install more," Fitzpatrick says.
That is highly controversial, as many in the West believe that Iran is seeking to build nuclear weapons -- which Iran denies.
Even before the report is issued, comments by IAEA Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei on the enrichment situation have angered the United States, and the three European Union powers -- Germany, France, and Britain -- who are negotiating with Iran to bring about compliance.
El-Baradei told the Spanish news agency ABC in effect that Iran now has a working enrichment capacity, and that the West should recognize this and not persist with its "superseded" demands for a complete halt.
He implied that the West instead should negotiate on the basis that Iran should be allowed a limited enrichment capacity, provided this falls well below the ability to produce weapons-grade uranium.
Such a compromise approach is strongly rejected by the Western powers. According to news reports, IAEA ambassadors from the United States, France, Germany, and Britain plan to complain to el-Baradei this week for what they consider his "unhelpful remarks."
Fitzpatrick says he is not convinced by el-Baradei's argument.
"I think it's probably too early to say that the policy has failed," Fitzpatrick says. "Certainly it has not dissuaded Iran. But claims that Iran can already produce enriched uranium, I think, are still exaggerated. At least there's no good evidence on how well Iran's enrichment program is working; perhaps today's report will provide that evidence."
The Security Council has already imposed two sets of limited sanctions on Iran, and the Western powers on the council plan to work on a third, more serious, package of measures if Iran fails to comply this time.
AP quotes diplomats as saying today's IAEA report is expected to confirm that Iran has assembled more than 1,600 centrifuges at its Natanz enrichment facility, and is operating about 1,300 of them. The product is said to be uranium enriched to about 5 percent. That's suitable as fuel in a civilian nuclear reactor, but is far below the 90-percent enrichment level needed for nuclear warheads.
"I will be looking to see what [the report] says about whether the centrifuges are operating continuously," Fitzpatrick, however, expresses skepticism. "Until now, they have been working on and off, which is an indication of technical trouble. It would also be good to know whether the centrifuges are spinning at the high speeds needed for normal enrichment, whether the various sets of centrifuges are linked together in cascades, and whether they are all being fed by gaseous uranium."
Fitzpatrick says that in the absence of firm evidence that all these conditions are being met, Iran's enrichment capacity must be seen as still under development.
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