Turn into Iran? Turn into Syria?
TEHRAN (June 21) - Iran said on Saturday it would not allow U.N. inspectors to take samples at an alleged nuclear plant, as Washington warned it reserved the right to use military action to stop Tehran making atomic weapons.
As international pressure intensified over Iran's nuclear aims, domestic tensions in Iran appeared to be abating slightly, with a lull in demonstrations overnight after 10 consecutive nights of pro-democracy protests by students.
Iranian security forces have rounded up dozens of students in recent days, which reformist MPs fear will only exacerbate simmering political conflict in the Islamic republic.
Reformist newspapers said on Saturday the arrests were carried out by plainclothes officials and the whereabouts of many of the students was unknown.
Illustrating the heightened tensions, a senior Iranian cleric warned Washington on Friday not to treat Iran like Afghanistan or Iraq and urged courts to impose death sentences on ''hooligans'' who had protested against Islamic clerical rule.
The protests have been lauded as a cry for freedom by the United States, which believes Iran is secretly seeking to develop nuclear weapons. Iran denies any ambition to build atomic arms and has accused U.S. officials of blatant interference in its internal affairs.
Gholamreza Aghazadeh, head of Iran's Atomic Energy organization, said on Saturday allowing inspectors from the U.N. nuclear watchdog to take samples at the Kalaye Electric Company in Tehran would expose Iran to a rash of similar requests.
''We've had no problem concerning environmental samples, but we've been telling the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) that this location is a non-nuclear location,'' Aghazadeh told state television.
President Bush has branded Iran as part of an ''axis of evil'' along with North Korea and Saddam Hussein's Iraq over suspected weapons of mass destruction and alleged support for terrorism.
Sandwiched between Iraq and Afghanistan where U.S. forces now have a strong foothold, Iran says its nuclear program is designed for electricity and denies the terrorism charge.
The United States has stepped up its campaign to force Iran to come clean over its nuclear ambitions, demanding that it abide by a nuclear non-proliferation treaty and sign a new protocol which would allow snap inspections.
A top U.S. official said on Friday military action remained an option but was relatively low down the agenda.
John Bolton, U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, told BBC radio: ''The president has repeatedly said that all options are on the table, but (military action) is not only not our preference, it is far, far from our minds.''
But when pressed, he said: ''It has to be an option.''
The IAEA reprimanded Iran on Thursday for repeatedly failing to report nuclear material, facilities and activities as required under its safeguards agreement with the agency.
It urged Iran to remain ''transparent'' and accept without delay or conditions more intrusive, short-notice inspections.
European Union leaders at a Greek summit chimed in on Friday, demanding that Iran reveal its nuclear aims, and in Moscow Russian President Vladimir Putin said he was assured by Iranian President Mohammad Khatami this week that Tehran had no plans to develop nuclear weapons.
HAIR-SPLITTING VS. TRANSPARENCY
Under its current IAEA nuclear safeguards obligations, Tehran is not required to permit environmental sampling at Kalaye since it is not an officially declared nuclear facility.
However, IAEA chief Mohammed ElBaradei has pressed Iran to permit the U.N. agency to take environmental samples from a Kalaye workshop where parts for uranium-enrichment centrifuges have been built and tested, to confirm Iran did not test its centrifuges with nuclear material without telling the IAEA.
Iran denies live testing of its centrifuges, which experts say would be capable of producing highly-enriched uranium useable in nuclear weapons and could be considered a violation of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
ElBaradei, in Jordan on Saturday for an economic meeting, was said by a senior Western diplomat to have little patience with Iran's legal hair-splitting about which facilities U.N. inspectors have the right to visit and take samples at in Iran.
One diplomat said that in a closed-door meeting with the IAEA board of governors, which includes Iran, ElBaradei said: ''This is not about legalities, this is about transparency.''
''The jury is still out'' about the nature of Iran's nuclear program, ElBaradei told reporters after the meeting.
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