* Iran owns 15 pct stake in uranium mine in Namibia
* Rio Tinto says complying with UN sanctions on Iran
* Group says Rio Tinto may be violating U.S. law
By Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 29 Iran can keep its stake
in a uranium mine in Namibia owned by Anglo-Australian mining
giant Rio Tinto (RIO.AX)(RIO.L), despite new U.N. sanctions
restricting such investments, the firm said on Friday.
U.N. Security Council resolution 1929, adopted in June,
bans the sale of any stakes in uranium mines to Iran, as well
as shares in any commercial operations linked to the production
of nuclear materials or technology. It also says that "all
states shall prohibit such investment."
Since 1975 -- before its 1979 Islamic revolution -- Iran
has owned a 15 percent stake in the Rossing Uranium Mine in
Namibia in southern Africa, one of the world's biggest open-pit
uranium mines. Rossing Uranium Limited, majority-owed by Rio
Tinto, sells its uranium to nuclear power plants in North
America, Europe and Asia, including Japan.
"Rio Tinto has discussed the new United Nations Resolution
1929 ... with the governments of Namibia, the United States,
the United Kingdom and Australia," Rio Tinto said in a
statement. "We believe we are complying with the resolution."
"The government of Iran ... does not gain access to any
nuclear technology through its investment, it has no uranium
product off-take rights and all dividend payments have been
frozen," said the statement, sent to Reuters by Rossing.
Council diplomats told Reuters that the latest steps
clearly ban the sale of new stakes to Iran but are unclear on
whether any previously held Iranian stakes in uranium mines or
other nuclear-related operations should be divested.
One Security Council diplomat told Reuters on condition of
anonymity that resolution 1929 appeared to apply only to new
stakes, though others said that all mining firms might come
under pressure from Western powers to disassociate themselves
from Tehran, which is suspected of developing atomic weapons.
GROUP: 'VIOLATION OF U.S. LAW'
Iran insists its nuclear program is entirely peaceful and
is intended to meet the nation's growing power needs. It has
been hit with four rounds of U.N. sanctions but refuses to halt
uranium enrichment work as demanded by the Security Council.
United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), a U.S.-based
non-governmental group that has been putting public pressure on
businesses to break off ties with Iran, sent a letter last week
to Rio Tinto warning it that the firm's majority ownership of
the Rossing mine "appears to be a violation of U.S. law."
The Iranian stake in Rossing is held by the Iran Foreign
Investment Company, which the U.S. Treasury Department added in
August to its list of Iranian companies subject to U.S.
sanctions for supporting Tehran's nuclear program.
"Iranian government personnel also have access to the
facility, from which they can acquire valuable technical
knowledge to advance the regime's nuclear weapons program,"
said UANI President Mark Wallace, a former U.S. diplomat.
U.S. officials have not commented recently about the
Rossing mine. Five years ago, when Reuters first revealed the
existence of the Iranian ownership stake in the Namibian mine,
a U.S. official said the issue was "troubling."
At that time, Rossing told Reuters that Iranian government
representatives routinely attended the mine's board of
(Editing by Eric Beech)