U.N. atomic report may expose Iran to wider sanctions

VIENNA (Reuters) – A U.N. watchdog report due on Thursday is likely to confirm Iran has escalated rather than halted its nuclear fuel program, exposing Tehran to wider sanctions over fears it is secretly seeking atom bombs.

As a 60-day grace period for it to stop enriching uranium expired on Wednesday, Iran offered to guarantee it was not pursuing nuclear weapons, but only as part of negotiations. It refused to shelve the program as a precondition for talks.

Iran’s continued rejection of the terms set by six world powers for talks on trade incentives meant the U.N. Security Council in coming weeks could weigh broadening the limited sanctions it imposed on Tehran in December.

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“The Iranians have unfortunately not acceded to the international community’s demands and we will have to consult. We will have to decide how to move forward,” U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in Berlin on Wednesday.

The Security Council commissioned the International Atomic Energy Agency to report on whether or not Iran had heeded the deadline for it to mothball enrichment-related activity.

Tehran’s defiance of the deadline, and leaks about Iran’s efforts to shift from modest experimental enrichment toward “industrial-scale” output of atomic fuel, made the IAEA verdict almost a foregone conclusion.

Barring an improbable turnaround by Iran, “I will have to report negatively,” IAEA director Mohamed ElBaradei told Britain’s Financial Times newspaper in an interview this week. Full Story

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