British Foreign Secretary: Iran's nuclear ambitions raise reasonable concerns

British Foreign Secretary: Iran's nuclear ambitions raise reasonable concerns

Azerbaijan, Baku, July 14 /Trend/

Iran's announcement to triple the production of uranium enriched to 20 percent raise reasonable concerns about the peaceful nature of its nuclear program due to a number of technical reasons, British Foreign & Commonwealth Secretary William Hague believes.

"Inside Iran, this announcement by a discredited regime drew little comment and was quickly overshadowed by the domestic political theatre of the latest high-profile tussles between Supreme Leader Khameni and President Ahmadinjedad," Hague wrote in his article sent Trend by the British Embassy in Baku. "But it was an important statement because it makes even clearer that Iran's programme is not designed for purely peaceful purposes."

On 8 June, the Head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation, Fereydoun Abbasi Davani announced plans to triple Iran's capacity to produce 20 percent enriched uranium, transferring enrichment from Natanz to the Fordo plant.

According to Hague, the only civilian nuclear power station and all of those Iran is seeking to build need uranium enriched to about 3.5 percent for fuel.

"So plans to enrich any further rightly prompt questions," he said.

The first (and only so far) Iranian nuclear power station was built in at Bushehr, 1200 kilometers southwest of Tehran but Iran reportedly plans to build up to 15 nuclear power plants by 2030.

Hague underlined that uranium enriched to up to 20 percent does have some civilian uses but not in the civilian nuclear power stations that Iran claims to desire.

"Predominantly it is used as fuel for research reactors, producing among other things isotopes for medical use. These are very efficient: one research reactor in Belgium is capable of producing almost all the medical isotopes needed across the whole of Western Europe," he told. "Iran has one research reactor [Tehran Research Reactor]. The plans announced by Mr Davani would provide more than four times its annual fuel requirements."

Hague noted that this reactor is already capable of producing enough radioisotopes for up to 1 million medical investigations per year - already comparable to the UK and much more than Iran needs.

"The plan would also require diverting at least half of Iran's current annual output of 3.5 percent enriched uranium, and so deny it to Iran's nuclear power stations. If Iran is serious about developing civil nuclear energy, why divert limited materials and resources away from the civil energy programme in this way, while spurning offers from the outside world, including the E3+3 countries of the UK, China, France, Germany, Russia and the US, of technological assistance for Iran's peaceful use of nuclear energy?" he told.

On October 1, 2009, the so-called Vienna Group consisting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), France, Russia and the U.S. proposed a deal, according to which Iran would send 3.5-percent-enriched uranium and receive 20-percent-enriched uranium from potential suppliers in return, all through the UN nuclear watchdog agency.

The proposal was first introduced after Iran announced to the IAEA in 2009 that it had run out of nuclear fuel for its research reactor in Tehran.

The proposal was made during the high-level talks between Iranian representatives and diplomats from the E3+3 in Geneva.

The Islamic Republic initially endorsed the idea, but then began to attach conditions and make amendments. In particular, Tehran has refused to immediately give the IAEA all its low-enriched uranium, which deprived the meaning of the proposal of the West.

Later, on May 17, 2010 Iran has signed an agreement to send uranium abroad for enrichment after mediation talks in Tehran with Turkish and Brazilian leaders. Under the deal Iran was ready to ship 1,200kg (2,645lb) of low-enriched uranium to Turkey, in return for fuel for a research reactor.

Hague believes there is one clear purpose for this enriched uranium.

"Enrichment from natural uranium to 20 percent is the most time consuming and resource-intensive step in making the highly enriched uranium required for a nuclear weapon," he told. "And when enough 20 percent enriched uranium is accumulated at the underground facility at Qom, it would take only two or three months of additional work to convert this into weapons grade material. There would remain technical challenges to actually producing a bomb, but Iran would be a significant step closer."

Hague added that Iran's intensified uranium enrichment is envisaged to take place at a previously covert site, buried deep beneath the mountains that it claims to allow IAEA monitoring is not a safeguard at the current time.

"Iran has a persistent record of evasion and obfuscation with the IAEA," he told. "It has failed to provide the IAEA with access to relevant locations, equipment, persons or documents. It has not replied to questions from the IAEA on its procurement of nuclear related items and aspects of its work that could only be useful for developing a nuclear weapon - such as multipoint detonation for the initiation of hemispherical explosive charges - or in plain English, detonators for an atom bomb."

In September, 2009, Iran revealed the existence of the Fordo enrichment facility, which is being built about 30 kilometers north of Qom. The facility is believed to be on a mountain on a former Iranian Revolutionary Guards missile site to the north-east of Qom on the Qom-Aliabad highway.

Iran said it began the project in 2007 but the IAEA believes design work started there in 2006.

Moreover, Hague noted, Iran has an active ballistic missile programme, including the development of missiles with a range of over a thousand kilometres and carried out a range of missile tests in June.

"A reasonable observer cannot help but join the dots," he said.

Five Shahab missiles, including four medium-range and one long-range, were successfully launched by Iran as part of the Great Prophet-6 military exercises in late June.

On July 9, Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh announced that February this year, Iran has made the launch of two ballistic missiles of long radius at 1,900 kilometers from the city of Semnan to the Indian Ocean.

According to Mehr News Agency, Iran managed to produce missiles hitting the target at a distance of 3,000 km that can fly up to Israel and Eastern European countries but Teheran insists that the missiles produced by it serve the security of the country and the region.

Hague said Iran's nuclear programme could lead to a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, already the world's most volatile region.

"It would be both naïve and a derogation of duty to give them - once again - the benefit of the doubt," he told. "This is why there are already six United Nations Security Council Resolutions that require Iran to suspend enrichment immediately, all ignored by Iran."

Iran has repeatedly stated that its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes of providing energy, but many other countries contend that it is seeking to develop nuclear weapons and in June, 2010 the Security Council imposed a fourth round of sanctions against it, citing the proliferation risks of its nuclear programme and its continued failure to cooperate with the IAEA.

The issue has been of international concern since the discovery in 2003 that Iran had concealed its nuclear activities for 18 years in breach of its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Hague added that Iran has so far refused to enter into any negotiations on its nuclear programme until the E3+3 agreed to lift all sanctions and immediately recognise Iran's right to enrich.

"But there will remain no rationale for lifting sanctions until Iran engages in negotiations to address what are well founded concerns about its nuclear programme. So far, Iran has done the opposite," he wrote.

Hague believes that the latest revelation demonstrates the urgency of increasing pressure.

"The UK is prepared to take action: I have already agreed a further 100 designations to add to EU sanctions last month, and last week announced additional travel bans against known proliferators. Iran may hope that the unprecedented changes of the Arab Spring will distract the world from its nuclear programme. We are determined that it shall not," he concluded.

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