Hand over nuclear weapons and know-how, Iran tells Britain
By Anton La Guardia, Diplomatic Editor
Iran has issued an extraordinary list of demands to Britain and other European countries, telling them to provide advanced nuclear technology, conventional weapons and a security guarantee against nuclear attack by Israel.
Teheran’s request, said by British officials to have “gone down very badly”, sharply raises the stakes in the crisis over Iran’s nuclear programme, which Britain and America believe is aimed at making an atomic bomb.
Iran’s move came during crisis talks in Paris this month with senior diplomats from Britain, France and Germany.
The “EU-3” were trying to convince Iranian officials to honour an earlier deal to suspend its controversial uranium enrichment programme, which is ostensibly designed to make fuel for nuclear power stations but could also be used to make fissile material for nuclear bombs.
Iranian officials refused point-blank to comply, saying they had every right under international law to pursue “peaceful” nuclear technology.
They then stunned the Europeans by presenting a letter setting out their own demands.
Iran said the EU-3 should support Iran’s quest for “advanced (nuclear) technology, including those with dual use” - a reference to equipment that has both civilian and military applications.
The Europeans should “remove impediments” preventing Iran from having such technology, and stick to these commitments even if faced with “legal (or) political . . . limitations”, an allusion to American pressure or even future international sanctions against Iran.
More astonishingly, Iran said the EU-3 should agree to meet Iran’s requirements for conventional weapons and even “provide security assurances” against a nuclear attack on Iran.
This is a reference to Israel’s nuclear arsenal, believed to include some 200 warheads and long-range missiles to deliver them.
The EU-3 are still debating over how to respond, but British officials said the Iranian letter was “extremely surprising, given the delicate state of process”. Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, will have to decide whether to adopt a more confrontational policy.
America is demanding that the board of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which meets next month, refer Iran to the UN Security Council for possible sanctions. US officials are also openly discussing “covert” means of disrupting the Iranian nuclear programme, while Israel has openly threatened military action.
However, there were signs yesterday that the next report of Mohammed ElBaradei, the IAEA director general, may give Iran a boost.
A key mystery for the past year has been the source of traces of highly-enriched uranium (HEU) found by IAEA inspectors at several sites in Iran. Teheran claimed this was “contamination” of equipment imported from other countries, rather than proof that it had secretly made HEU.
According to diplomats, inspectors have confirmed that in at least one case the contamination did come from Pakistan, as Iran claimed.
Other contamination issues remain unresolved, and may never be settled. Moreover there are several other open questions.