UPDATE, UPDATE, UPDATEResolution calling for a return to negotiations and confidence boosting measures has follow Iran's unilateral decision to resume uranium processing

Controversial moves by the hardline Iranian regime to restart a nuclear fuel cycle has prompted a swath of criticism from the West, including comments from President Bush that he was “very deeply suspicious” of the Iranian decision.

Iran has repeatedly said that it is still prepared to negotiate after rejecting a deal brokered by the EU-3 of France, Germany and the UK as an ‘insult.’

The country maintains its right to develop a civil nuclear programme and has taken steps to resume its uranium enrichment programme, despite the fact that the proposals reaffirm Iran’s inalienable right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy exercised in conformity with the NPT. The deal also offers assurances of fuel supply for light water power and research reactors, expands international cooperation in the civil nuclear field leading to a new political and security relationship between Iran and Europe based on cooperation and creates a new framework for expanded economic and technological cooperation.

Iran could face United Nations sanctions over the issue, though a scenario of economic sanctions is unlikely to pass given the civil nuclear ambitions of a number of Security Council members.

But despite America’s suspicions, so far Iran has not violated its legal obligations by ending what has always been a voluntary agreement to suspend enrichment operations. Furthermore, work at its Isfahan nuclear facility is being performed in the presence of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors who had been permitted to install surveillance cameras. Iran started to feed uranium ore concentrate (UOC) into the first part of the process line at the Uranium Conversion Facility (UCF) following the installation of IAEA cameras covering the input stage of the UOC process line, but prior to completion of the in situ testing of the cameras.

IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei confirmed that Iran has removed the seals on the process lines and the UF4 at the Uranium Conversion Facility in Isfahan and also reported that the surveillance equipment at the UCF is fully functional and that the uranium ore concentrate has been verified by the Agency.

ElBaradei also released a statement in which he expresses hopes that the latest developments are “simply a hiccup in the process and not a permanent rupture” and called on all parties to exercise maximum restraint, desist from taking any unilateral actions and continue the negotiation process.

The EU-3 however, described the moves as a matter of deep regret for the EU saying: “We do not believe that Iran has any operational need to engage in fissile material production activities of its own, nor any other reason to resume activity at Isfahan, if the intentions of its nuclear programme are exclusively peaceful. Iran currently has no operating nuclear power plant and has concluded an agreement with the Russian Federation assuring the supply of fuel for the reactor at Bushehr, which is still under construction. Any such resumption of currently suspended activities, including uranium conversion, will only further heighten international concern about the real objective of Iran’s nuclear programme.”

The IAEA has been holding crisis meetings and has passed a resolution calling for the Islamic state to re-suspend its activities. The IAEA has made it clear that the full suspension of enrichment, including conversion, activities continues to be an important confidence building measure and has called upon Iran to rectify the situation. Iran, meanwhile, has said that they will continue to have the activities at the enrichment factories suspended and that conversion activities will continue to be under full IAEA verification, but with patience wearing thin European governments expect the US to press for a harder line against Iran over the issue.

ElBaradei is encouraged that Iran and the EU-3 are ready to go back to the negotiating table and newly inaugurated President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has suggested that the country might be ready to negotiate international safeguards for the nuclear programme, but this looks far from enough to satisfy the West over the full extent Iran’s nuclear ambitions. An IAEA report on the implementation of Safeguards in Iran is due by 3 September.