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Last Updated: Saturday, 21 January 2006, 15:06 GMT
Confusion at Iran 'assets move'
Natanz nuclear facility in Iran
Iran has broken the seals on three nuclear facilities
There is confusion over whether Iran is moving foreign exchange reserves from Europe to avoid possible sanctions, after conflicting remarks by officials.

The deputy head of Iran's central bank has said that Iran has no plans at the moment to shift its money.

But Iranian news agencies reported on Friday that the bank head had said the state had started to withdraw assets, amid a row over its nuclear programme.

Iran denies US and European claims that it is seeking to build nuclear weapons.

The UN's atomic agency is due to meet on 2 February to discuss whether to refer Iran to the United Nations Security Council.

The council has the power to impose international trade or diplomatic sanctions.

Repeat of 1979?

The Iranian students news agency (Isna) reported on Friday that Iran's central bank governor Ebrahim Sheibani had revealed that the country had started to shift assets from Europe.

IRAN'S NUCLEAR STANDOFF
Sept 2002: Work begins on Iran's first reactor at Bushehr
Dec 2002: Satellites reveal Arak and Natanz sites, triggering IAEA inspections
Nov 2003: Iran suspends uranium enrichment and allows tougher inspections
June 2004: IAEA rebukes Iran for not fully co-operating
Nov 2004: Iran suspends enrichment under deal with EU
Aug 2005: Iran rejects EU plan and re-opens Isfahan plant
Jan 2006: Iran re-opens Natanz facility

It was not immediately clear where the funds were going, although reports suggested assets could be heading to Asia.

However, the deputy head of the bank has told the official news agency Irna that Iran has no plan at the moment to move money from Europe to Asia.

"At the moment, Iran does not have any schedule to transfer its foreign exchange accounts to the named countries," Mohammad-Jafar Mojarad said.

Earlier, the economics minister denied reports that key individuals linked to the regime had started to remove billions of dollars of private capital from Europe.

The BBC's Frances Harrison in Tehran says many Iranians believe it would be prudent to take action to avoid a repeat of 1979, when the US froze Iranian assets in response to 63 people being taken hostage at its embassy in Tehran.

It is difficult to estimate the amount of assets that Iran has abroad. Some sources have put the total value of Iran's foreign assets at somewhere between $30bn and $50bn.

Russian solution?

Correspondents say a possible solution to the Iranian nuclear dispute may have emerged, after Russia said Iran has expressed interest in a proposal to enrich uranium on Russian territory.

The head of Russia's atomic energy agency told President Vladimir Putin that Iran was ready for detailed discussions about the idea.

The highly sensitive process of enriching uranium lies at the heart of the row between the West and Iran.

Low level enriched uranium is used as fuel in nuclear power stations, but uranium enriched to higher levels can be used in nuclear weapons.

Western countries are afraid that oil-rich Iran is secretly pursuing nuclear weapons and that allowing it to master the enrichment process will inevitably lead to weapons acquisition.

Tehran says it wants the technology for energy purposes alone.




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