TEHRAN: Iran’s bold move to restart atomic fuel work underlines a deep conviction in its right to nuclear technology and confidence that the West is reluctant to abandon talks and haul it before the UN Security Council.

Analysts and diplomats who follow the issue closely and spoke on condition of anonymity in Tehran say Iran draws its confidence from record-high oil prices, US difficulties in Iraq and support from non-Western nations.

But they say the Islamic state, which denies atomic arms ambitions, is playing a dangerous game by upping the ante in its three-year nuclear standoff with the West which could backfire if it does not resume negotiations with the European Union soon.

“There’s no doubt they are confident right now,” said an Asian diplomat in Tehran. “They calculated correctly that this move would not land them straight in the UN Security Council.”

A draft resolution made no mention of Security Council referral and merely called on Iran to resume its suspension of all nuclear fuel work.

A senior European diplomat agreed that despite Western suspicions that Iran’s programme is a covert bid to gain nuclear weapons capability, Tehran had grounds to expect it could get away in the short run with restarting uranium conversion at its nuclear facility near the central city of Isfahan.

“Contrary to popular wisdom there’s no real sense of urgency, even in Washington, to take this case to the Security Council,” he said, noting recent comments by US President George W. Bush backing the process of Iran-EU negotiations.

“There’s also an awareness, particularly in Washington and London, that after the experience with Iraq any case referred to the Security Council should be as watertight as possible.”

US difficulties subduing the insurgency in Iraq and the already sizzling price of oil could explain the preference for keeping Iran’s case on the back burner for now, said one political analyst.

“America has its hands full with Iraq and sending Iran to the Security Council could add another $5 or more to the price of oil,” he said.

There was also a recognition in Western capitals that gaining consensus in the Security Council for any punitive action against Iran would be difficult.

“Even if they do send Iran’s case to the Security Council, then what? Russia and China won’t back sanctions against Iran, so what’s the point right now?” the analyst said.

Sending Iran’s case to the Security Council would require a bigger justification that its reversal of a suspension which was voluntary and not legally binding.

“We have not broken any rules ... They cannot say that we violated the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty,” Gholamreza Aghazadeh, head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation, said this week. Iran enjoys the sympathy of many Non-Aligned Movement countries who have plans or aspirations to develop nuclear energy as an alternative energy source.

Henry Sokolski, head of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, said he was concerned about what he saw as an assumption that states like Iran have an inherent right to develop enriched-uranium fuel.

“There is no per se prohibition, but there is no per se right to enrich uranium either,” Sokolski, a former US Pentagon official, told Reuters.

The UN nuclear watchdog has called for a global moratorium on the enrichment of uranium, but Iran and the United States, along with France, Japan, Canada, Australia and other countries have all rejected the idea.

Iran’s rejection last week of an EU package of political and economic incentives designed to persuade it to scrap nuclear fuel work for good has generated sympathy in some quarters.

“The EU proposal contained nothing really. It was an empty offer,” said the Asian diplomat.

Iran has called the proposal an insult, arguing it contained vaguely worded promises of cooperation in fields which Europe and Iran already are or should be cooperating on.—Reuters

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