Thursday, September 29, 2005

Cuba, Syria, Belarus Join IAEA Board, Boosting Iran

Dow Jones Newswires:
Cuba, Syria and Belarus joined the International Atomic Energy Agency's 35-nation board Thursday, bolstering the ranks of countries expected to oppose any decision to refer Iran to the U.N. Security Council in November.

The three nations were among 10 approved as new board members at the IAEA's 139-nation general conference as part of rotation that results in some board seats changing hands each year.

Although the board doesn't have permanent members, the U.S., Russia, China, the U.K., France, Germany, Canada and Japan effectively enjoy that status because of their nuclear or economic standing.

The three new board member nations' differences with Washington almost guarantees they will oppose any effort to haul Iran before the top U.N. decision-making body at the next board meeting in November - a likely development unless Tehran meets international demands about its nuclear program.

But they're not expected to actively prevent any Western-initated effort to refer Tehran to the Security Council. READ MORE

Five of the 10 countries that were replaced by Thursday's rotation also oppose referral. They abstained at Saturday's vote by the board on a resolution clearing the path for such a move.

In all, 12 nations - including China and Russia abstained. Venezuela cast the only vote against. But even abstentions are considered disapproval at board sessions, which usually make decisions by consensus.

Of the 35 board members, 22 voted in favor of the motion backed by the U.S. and the E.U, among others.

"Given the large number of countries that either voted for the resolution or abstained, I would expect you would have enough votes in favor of reporting Iran to the Security Council, should Iran not make progress," said a Western diplomat.

Washington suspects Iran is trying to develop atomic bombs, while Tehran maintains its activities are for generating electricity.

The resolution adopted Saturday was drafted by the E.U. and backed by the U.S. and its allies. It called on the board to consider reporting Iran to the council for noncompliance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and suspicions that Iran's nuclear activities - including those linked to uranium enrichment, a possible pathway to nuclear arms - could threaten international peace and security.

The Security Council could impose sanctions if it determines that Iran violated the treaty, but the draft didn't mention sanctions, in recognition of Russian and Chinese opposition.