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IAEA seeks solution to Iran issue

Bush sees 'positive sign' as new leader nixes offer, backs talks


International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)

VIENNA, Austria (CNN) -- The International Atomic Energy Agency is expected to press Iran on Wednesday to reverse its decision to resume a uranium conversion program.

Iran restarted uranium conversion -- a step on the way to enrichment -- at its Isfahan nuclear facility Monday, saying it is for peaceful purposes only.

Iran has insisted it has the right to have a nuclear fuel recycling program in its quest for greater reliance on nuclear energy.

Western nations, however, fear this same uranium enrichment program could also be used by Iran as a front to develop atomic weapons.

The IAEA's board of governors met in Vienna on Tuesday and were expected to meet again Wednesday.

The IAEA indicated its board would ask Iran to rescind its decision on resuming its uranium conversion program.

If Iran declines, it could be referred to the U.N. Security Council for sanctions.

Iran will get access on Wednesday to sealed parts of its uranium conversion plant at Isfahan, allowing Tehran to move closer to resuming production of enriched uranium, Reuters reported.

According to the Islamic Republic News Agency, new Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan in a phone call that Iran is willing to continue negotiations on its nuclear program.

But Ahmadinejad rejected a European Union proposal to settle the dispute as "an affront to the Iranian nation."

U.S. President George W. Bush, at his ranch in Texas, said Ahmadinejad's willingness to come back to the table is "a positive sign," but warned that the United States is "deeply suspicious" of Iran's goals.

Last week, European Union negotiators offered Iran a package of proposals for long-term support of its civilian nuclear program in exchange for guarantees not to develop atomic weapons. (Full story)

A government spokesman said Saturday that Iran would reject the offer. "We do not humble ourselves in the poisoned atmosphere created by foreign sources," said Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid-Reza Asefi. (Full story)

Cyrus Naseri, Iran's delegate to the IAEA, told reporters Tuesday that an Iranian settlement proposal is still on the table for European consideration.

Iran resumed uranium conversion at the Isfahan nuclear facility Monday. (Full story)

It did so without breaking any U.N. seals at the plant. But in order to run the whole plant -- which turns uranium concentrate into a gas that can then be enriched into reactor or bomb fuel -- some seals must be removed, Reuters reported.

Mohammad Saeedi, a senior member of Iran's delegation at the IAEA meeting in Vienna, told Reuters: "The agency has promised us it will remove the (IAEA) seals by noon (0730 GMT) on Wednesday because the installation of (surveillance) cameras has been completed."

IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei said he hopes the dispute between Iran and the EU is "simply a hiccup, not a permanent rupture." He urged all parties to exercise maximum restraint.

As the 35-member IAEA board met, the Russian Federation joined other European nations to call on Iran to resume suspension of the program.

Russia, a member of the board of governors, signed a deal with Iran in February to transfer nuclear fuel to Iran's $800 million power plant reactor in the southern city of Bushehr and move the spent fuel back to Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he is convinced Iran is not developing nuclear weapons. (Full story)

Britain, France and Germany -- the so-called EU-3 -- have led attempts to negotiate a solution with Iran. The United States, which has no diplomatic relations with the Islamic republic, has remained largely in the background.

"Our strategy has been all along to work with Germany, France and Great Britain in terms of sending a strong signal and message to Iran," Bush, who once branded Iran as part of an "axis of evil" along with North Korea and Saddam Hussein's Iraq, said on Tuesday.

"Today it looked like that the new Iranian leader has heard that message," he said.

The bottom line, the American leader said, is that "we don't want the Iranians to have nuclear weapons."

'Ready for talks'

Naseri, speaking in Vienna, scoffed at the U.S. insistence that Iran should not have nuclear weapons.

"The United States is the sole nuclear weapons state which had the guts to drop the bomb and kill and maim and turn into ashes millions in a split second," he said, referring the atomic bombs that destroyed two cities in Japan and helped end World War II 60 years ago this month. (Full story)

"The United States is in no position whatsoever to tell anyone or preach what they should or should not with their nuclear program."

IRNA, the Iranian state-run news agency, quoted Ahmadinejad as telling Annan that Iran is "ready for talks, and negotiations have never been interrupted on our part. We are willing to continue with negotiations within the framework of IAEA regulations and safeguard agreement."

"Iranian officials gave two years for confidence building, and it seems such an approach has enhanced the level of expectations of the EU party," Ahmadinejad said.

"The EU party expects Iran to accept violation of its national rights. No Iranian national accepts such an injustice."

"However, we are ready to proceed with talks. Of course, I will put forward initiatives in this respect after forming my Cabinet," he said.

He complained to Annan that the European proposal "does not look like a proposal at all. It is an insult to the Iranian nation. They have talked in a way as if the Iranian nation was suffering from backwardness, and the time was 100 years ago, and our country was their colony."

The secretary-general's office confirmed that the two had spoken and said Annan echoed ElBaradei's urging of restraint.

Under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, signatory nations -- which include Iran -- are allowed to develop nuclear power with monitoring by the IAEA.

The agency says that it is making progress but that Iran's past lack of candor about its program has left some doubt about its current work.

Ahmadinejad told Annan that Iran was operating in complete compliance with IAEA regulations.

Russia joined the Europeans and Americans in urging Iran to reverse course.

"It would be a wise decision to immediately stop the work begun on uranium conversion and continue Iran's close cooperation with the IAEA in removing the questions that still remain about the Iranian nuclear program," foreign ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said during a news conference, as translated by the ministry on the Web site.

The IAEA board met Tuesday to receive a report from its monitors on the restarting of Iran's fuel conversion at the Isfahan power plant in central Iran.

Sources told CNN that a report may emerge Thursday again calling on Iran to rethink its enrichment program.

Amid heavy international pressure, Iran agreed in November to suspend the production of enriched uranium, which can be used as fuel for nuclear power plants or, in higher concentrations, in nuclear weapons. (Full story)

-- CNN Senior International Correspondent Walter Rodgers contributed to this report

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