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Last Updated: Sunday, 19 September, 2004, 13:17 GMT 14:17 UK
Analysis: Iran's nuclear bluff

By Frances Harrison
BBC correspondent in Tehran

Iran's angry reaction to calls for a sweeping halt to all its enrichment activities may be born partially of a sense of injustice.

Aerial view of Natanz facility (Image: DigitalGlobe)
At Natanz, uranium enrichment is in its final phase, Iranians say

Iran argues it has abided by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and allowed spot inspections sometimes at two hours' notice in order to show the intention behind its nuclear programme is peaceful.

Iranian officials repeatedly stress their country has a legal right to nuclear power - and in particular to securing their own source of fuel for power stations rather than being dependent on outsiders.

The international community is mistrustful though - fearing Iran plans to convert fuel into highly enriched uranium for weapons.

Under pressure

By taking a tough stance against the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) resolution, Iran hopes to show the world it will not give in to what it calls international bullying by making concessions outside the framework of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The government is also under pressure from hardliners who dominate the parliament.

More than 200 deputies urged the government to defy the international community and go ahead and enrich uranium.

The door was however left ajar for compromise when Iran said any further suspension of enrichment activities was a matter for negotiations

There have been calls in hard-line newspapers for Iran to pull out of the NPT altogether - and certainly it is possible if Iran is referred to the UN Security Council for sanctions.

For the meantime Iran has said it will continue and even extend its co-operation with IAEA inspectors in the hope that it can resolve all outstanding issues by the next meeting in November.

Spot inspections will continue under an agreement known as the Additional Protocol signed last year though parliamentarians have issued a statement saying they will not ratify it.

Disturbing progress

The door was, however, left ajar for compromise when Iran said any further suspension of enrichment activities was a matter for negotiations and could not be achieved by passing resolutions.

What is disturbing for the international community is quite how advanced Iran's nuclear programme already is.

Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Hassan Rohani, said Iran was already producing uranium hexafluoride gas out of yellow cake in Isfahan and had reached the last stage of uranium enrichment at a site in Natanz.

The latest IAEA resolution called on Iran to reconsider its decision to start building a heavy-water research reactor in Arak - but Mr Rohani told journalists it was almost finished.

He said Iran already had enrichment capability and could complete the fuel cycle any day it wanted.

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