Tuesday, April 05, 2005

US And Iran Oppose Plan For Nuclear Moratorium

Guy Dinmore, The Financial Times:
The US has rejected a proposal by the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for a five-year, global moratorium on the construction of new facilities for enriching uranium and reprocessing plutonium.

One month before a conference to review the nuclear weapons non-proliferation treaty (NPT), the US and Iran find themselves in uncommon agreement in their joint opposition to the plan put forward by Mohamed ElBaradei. READ MORE

According to diplomats in Vienna, where the United Nations nuclear watchdog agency is based, the US wants to expand its private civilian nuclear power industry, while Iran insists it should not be denied access to such technology.

Mr ElBaradei argues that the world already has more than enough capacity to fuel its nuclear power plants and research facilities. His proposed moratorium is intended to give the international community a breathing space to work out revisions to the treaty, widely acknowledged to be in danger of collapse.

North Korea quit the NPT in 2003 and later admitted possession of nuclear weapons. Iran is among several countries suspected of developing a clandestine nuclear weapons capability while remaining party to the treaty, which allows member states to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

One diplomat in Vienna said the White House had agreed to the proposed moratorium on condition that it did not apply to the US. France and Japan also oppose the plan. “The moratorium is going nowhere,” the diplomat said. The US State Department declined to comment.

The US and the European Union are demanding that Iran abandon its uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing programmes. Iran refuses but it has largely frozen related activities for the past 18 months.

President George W. Bush marked the 35th anniversary of the treaty with a statement last month demanding closure of “loopholes that allow states to produce nuclear materials that can be used to build bombs under the cover of civilian nuclear programmes”.

Mr Bush has also proposed that uranium and plutonium facilities be denied to those states that have not already developed them. Instead, they could be given access to fuel from a market of nuclear suppliers. Iran rejected the idea, and Mr ElBaradei has suggested the IAEA act as a guarantor of supplies through international consortia.

These various proposals are expected to be discussed at the five-yearly NPT review conference, to be held New York from May 2 to 27.

Controversy over the moratorium idea is symptomatic of serious differences among the five nuclear weapons states that are signatories to the treaty and many other states that accuse them of not living up to their disarmament commitments. A senior UN official said the conference was headed for a “train wreck”. A preparatory committee has failed to agree on an agenda.