UN atomic agency to meet on Iran

Updated: 2006-03-05 13:35
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The UN atomic watchdog will open a meeting expected to clear the way for the UN Security Council to consider acting against Iran over fears it seeks nuclear weapons.
UN atomic agency to meet on Iran
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Mohamed ElBaradei speaks to the media in Vienna. The UN's atomic watchdog agency will consider a report from ElBaradei on Iran's nuclear program in a meeting on Monday expected to clear the way for the UN Security Council to consider acting against the Islamic country. [AFP]
Little seems to stand in the way of the crisis over Iran's nuclear ambitions being handed over to the Security Council, which can take punitive action.

The board of governors of the UN watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency meets Monday in Vienna to consider a report from IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei on Iran's nuclear program. The item is expected to come up Tuesday or Wednesday.

"The report is presented to the board and then has to go to the Security Council," IAEA spokesman Peter Rickwood said Saturday.

The IAEA's 35-nation board had reported Iran on February 4 to the Security Council but left a month open for diplomacy before the Council receives ElBaradei's assessment report and decides what measures, if any, to take.

"After the board report, I think the Security Council will have to have a serious discussion about what the next steps will be," US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Saturday on the sidelines of President George W. Bush's visit to Pakistan.

But Rice said there was no need to rush to sanctions.

The Security Council could adopt a "presidential declaration" calling on Tehran to heed IAEA calls for Iran to suspend uranium enrichment and cooperate with IAEA inspections, diplomats in Washington and Vienna said.

Key Iranian ally Russia, which has a veto on the Security Council, has said it opposes sanctions.

In last-ditch talks in Vienna last Friday, Iran and EU powers Britain, France and Germany failed to strike a deal that could have blocked possible Council action over Western fears that Tehran is secretly developing atomic weapons.

The IAEA has called on Iran to suspend uranium enrichment as a confidence-building measure and to cooperate with a now three-year-old agency investigation.

But Iran last month started a 10-centrifuge research cascade at a facility in Natanz, signaling it was pushing ahead with enrichment it says is essential to make fuel for a civilian energy program but which could also be used to make atom bombs.

In his report, released earlier this week, ElBaradei said Iran had failed to answer crucial questions about its nuclear program but stopped short of saying it was making atomic weapons.

Diplomats close to the IAEA said they did not expect there to be a resolution at next week's board meeting.

In February the board voted 27 to three to report the matter to the Security Council.

A Western diplomat told AFP that the European troika had "decided against a resolution, after hearing from Russia, China and India that there was no support for one, even including some non-aligned members."

However, the five permanent Security Council members plus Germany, which are all on the IAEA board, may issue a statement calling on Iran to honor the agency's call for it to suspend enrichment and cooperate with investigators, the diplomat said.

Iran meanwhile is lobbying strongly with both the Europeans and Russia for a last-minute compromise "in order to keep the issue within the IAEA," and avoid Security Council action, a diplomat said.

The compromise would allow Iran to do very small-scale enrichment work for research while the Islamic Republic would pledge a two-year moratorium on full-scale enrichment that is more of a proliferation risk.

But the Europeans Friday said the bottom line was that Iran must first suspend all enrichment, including research, in order to negotiate on getting trade and security benefits in any deal.

Russia is trying to strike a compromise in which Iran would enrich on Russian soil, so that it would not get the technology that is considered the "break-out capacity" for making atomic weapons.

This compromise may include a Russian promise to let the Iranians run a cascade of 20 centrifuges for enrichment research.

But a Western diplomat said the United States and the Europeans reject such a concession.