Iran Moves Ahead with Uranium Plans

Dismissing a European bid for a compromise, Iran says it will proceed on a course to develop a uranium-enrichment program. Greg Webb, editor of Global Security Newswire, discusses the latest developments with Steve Inskeep.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Iran resumed uranium conversion work yesterday at its nuclear facility in Isfahan. This plant processes uranium and prepares it for enrichment. The United States fears that Iran will use the technology to develop a nuclear weapon. Iran denies that ambition, and that difference of opinion is at the heart of a drawn-out negotiation between Iran and the West. The International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors has an emergency meeting today in Vienna to discuss these developments, and to talk about that we've called Greg Webb. He's editor of the Global Security Newswire.

Good morning.

Mr. GREG WEBB (Editor, Global Security Newswire): Good morning. How are you?

INSKEEP: Doing fine. Thanks very much. Now what exactly did Iran begin doing at this plant?

Mr. WEBB: They broke some seals on some equipment and some material, some uranium ore, that will allow them to begin processing this material, which is an early stage of a long process to enrich uranium which they say they want to do to fuel a nuclear power program in Iran.

INSKEEP: You said `early stage of a long process.' Is Iran actually violating the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty with this step?

Mr. WEBB: No, they are not. They have made these steps and they've made them with the full monitoring and, indeed, the presence of officials from the International Atomic Energy Agency. But what is concerning the United States and other nations is the fact that Iran had concealed the existence of this facility until just two years ago, and Iran has admitted to concealing these--it's a large program--for as many as 18 years. So there's some suspicion about what Iran's real intentions are.

INSKEEP: Greg, as people in the West try to figure out Iran's immediate intentions, do people think that Iran is taking a serious step toward nuclear enrichment here or taking a step in this broader negotiation, simply turning up the pressure on the West?

Mr. WEBB: Certainly, the latter. They're trying to ramp up pressure on the West, which is trying to do the same. Iran is trying hard to preserve all of its options right now. They want to try to become a more mainstream nation in the international community and, at the same time, I think it--Iran recognizes that there are probably some security benefits to having the opportunity to have the option to have a nuclear weapon in the future. So it's not yet ready to foreclose on that.

INSKEEP: OK. So now the International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors weighs in today. They meet today. What are their options that they can consider?

Mr. WEBB: It's really the only forum right now for the world community to discuss this issue, so at 3:00, about 35 nations will get together and, first of all, they'll discuss what the agency can do to monitor what Iran is doing. Iran has been quite open about allowing agency personnel to watch what they're doing.

INSKEEP: They actually invited cameras in--Right?--to monitor this step that they're taking?

Mr. WEBB: Yes, cameras and people and surveillance equipment. They'll have cameras watching what they do all the time. Iran has taken extra steps far beyond what is required by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to allow the agency to keep track of what it's doing.

INSKEEP: OK. Well, Greg, thanks very much.

Mr. WEBB: Thank you very much.

INSKEEP: We've been speaking with Greg Webb--he's editor of the Global Security Newswire--about Iran's decision to resume uranium conversion at a nuclear facility in Isfahan.

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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