Friday, September 23, 2005

EU powers demand UN report over Iran atomic plans

Louis Charbonneau and Francois Murphy, Reuters:
The EU's top powers submitted a resolution on Friday to the U.N. nuclear watchdog requiring Iran to be reported to the Security Council over what the West fears is a covert atomic weapons programme.

The Europeans intended to force a vote on the issue at the 35-nation governing board of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). This will lead to a showdown with Russia, China and developing countries who oppose the EU plan, diplomats said.

IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming told reporters the resolution had been formally submitted and the board would convene on Saturday at 1300 GMT to decide on it. The document, seen by Reuters, was sponsored by Britain, France and Germany, who have been negotiating with Iran on behalf of the EU.

It requires Tehran to be reported to the Security Council, which has the power to impose sanctions, but at an unspecified date -- watering down an earlier demand from the Europeans for an immediate referral.

This meant Iran would most likely not be referred to the Council until the IAEA board meets in November, diplomats said. READ MORE

Iran denies seeking atomic bombs and says its nuclear programme is only for generating electricity. However, it concealed its atomic fuel programme from the IAEA for 18 years.

The resolution said Iran's "many failures and breaches" of its nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Safeguards Agreement "constitute non-compliance" with the pact.

It added there was an "absence of confidence" that Iran's atomic programme was exclusively peaceful and this gave rise to questions "within the competence of the Security Council".

In Washington, the U.S. State Department was confident a vote calling for referral would get through the board and said the U.N. body needed to send a clear message to Iran.

"We believe that at this board of governors meeting, there needs to be an effective response to that (Iran's) defiance and that failure to abide by their international obligations," said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack.

"If a vote were to be taken today, we think there are the votes, a majority of votes for a referral to the Security Council," he told a regular briefing.

Several diplomats at the meeting said the Iranians had shown a letter to individual board members on Friday stating that if the resolution were passed, Tehran would end snap IAEA inspections under a special protocol of the NPT and would begin enriching uranium at a mothballed facility in Natanz.

Any vote on the resolution at Saturday's IAEA board meeting could be blocked by delegations failing to turn up from Russia, China and as many as 12 of the 14 non-aligned states, diplomats said. A vote would require two thirds of the board present.


The EU drive, led by France, Britain and Germany, has won support from around 20 or 21 countries out of 35 on the board to send Iran to the Council. But five days of backroom talks with Russia, China, South Africa, India and others opposed to the move failed to break the deadlock, diplomats said.

"Consensus is impossible. That's clear," a diplomat said. A simple majority is enough to pass a resolution.

While India remained opposed to the resolution, it has come under U.S. pressure to take a tougher line on Iran and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India urged Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in a phone call to adopt a "flexible position", the New Delhi Foreign Ministry said.

This was to avoid a confrontation and Iran should "make concessions" to this end, the ministry quoted Singh as saying.

The EU trio are backed by the United States, Australia, Japan and other Western countries.

These countries say that since Iran hid its uranium enrichment programme for 18 years it can only prove it is not seeking atom bombs by renouncing all sensitive nuclear work.

Iran has denounced the Western attempt to restrict its programme as "nuclear apartheid" -- an argument which found some support among developing countries.

It says that as a signatory to the NPT it is entitled to a peaceful nuclear programme. The EU resolution condemned Iran for breaching NPT rules by concealing potentially weapons-related activities from the IAEA.

Permanent Security Council members Russia and China fear a Security Council report would spark an international crisis.

Russia is building a $1 billion nuclear reactor at Bushehr in Iran and considers Tehran a key ally in the Middle East. China needs Iran's energy resources to fuel its booming economy.