Monday, June 13, 2005

U.N. Nuclear Watchdog to Hear Iran Report

George Jahn, The Associated Press:
Key members of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency met Monday to endorse the head of the organization for a third term and hear a report mildly critical of Iran for not fully cooperating with a probe of its activities. READ MORE

Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency. faced no opposition to his re-election after the United States dropped its objections last week.

Bush administration hawks had accused ElBaradei of being too easy on Tehran and of trying to obstruct America's invasion of Iraq by questioning U.S intelligence that asserted Saddam Hussein had a nuclear arms program.

A diplomat accredited to the agency said chief U.S. delegate Jackie Sanders was expected to join representatives of other nations in backing ElBaradei at Monday's closed morning session.

In an unexpected delay, however, the issue of ElBaradei's reappointment was postponed to the afternoon session after the Japanese chief delegate, Yukio Takasu, opposed making it the first item of the conference on what he said were procedural grounds. Delegates to the meeting said they expected the dispute to be resolved.

It was not immediately clear why Japan made the move. But Egypt was a key backer of having ElBaradei's reconfirmation as the first order of the day at the Vienna meeting, and that gave rise to speculation Japan was retaliating for Egypt's role in obstructing the adoption of an agenda for more than two weeks at last month's conference on nuclear proliferation in New York.

On Iran, other diplomats said the Islamic republic will also come in for some praise, with a senior IAEA official planning to tell the agency's board that Iran has kept its promise of freezing a key program that could be used to make nuclear arms.

Speaking on the eve of the 35-nation IAEA board meeting, the diplomats described the report on Iran — likely to be delivered Tuesday or Wednesday by IAEA Deputy Director General Pierre Goldschmidt — as relatively mild compared with previous summaries since that nation's nuclear program became a matter of international concern three years ago.

Tehran has been under agency review since revelations in 2003 of nearly two decades of secret nuclear activities, including work on enriching uranium a technology that can make weapons-grade material for nuclear warheads. Iran insists it wants to enrich only to generate nuclear power, but froze that program and linked activities late last year as it focused on talks with France, Britain and Germany meant to reduce concerns about Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

The report is confidential until delivery, and diplomats close to the agency who saw copies on the weekend spoke to The Associated Press only on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to divulge its contents. Other diplomats accredited to the Vienna-based IAEA also demanded they not be named, saying they also were not supposed to talk on the record about what would happen at the closed meeting.

The meeting also will urge North Korea, the other key international proliferation concern, to return to six-nation talks meant to entice it to move away from nuclear threats in exchange for economic and political concessions, the diplomats said.

Ahead of the start of the meeting, South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun said Monday he was certain international nuclear talks with North Korea would resume and called for more flexibility in offering incentives to convince Pyongyang to disarm.

Saudi Arabia is a relatively recent issue for the agency.

The country has negotiated a now-outmoded deal with the IAEA that effectively excludes it from nuclear inspections in exchange for its word of honor that it does not have anything worth inspecting. After formal requests from the European Union, the United States and Australia to agree to an outside probe by agency inspectors, the Saudis will be under pressure to show some compromise at the board meeting, said the diplomats.

In Riyadh on Sunday, the Saudi news agency cited an unidentified official as saying Saudi Arabia is willing to cooperate with the U.N. nuclear monitoring agency. But the Saudi official didn't mention inspection in his remarks.