Sunday, September 11, 2005

EU, US Face Uphill Battle on Iran at IAEA

Louis Charbonneau, Reuters:
A joint EU and U.S. effort to refer Iran to the U.N. Security Council over a suspected nuclear weapons program is meeting fierce resistance from some members of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), diplomats say. More than half a dozen countries on the IAEA's 35-nation governing board, which meets on September 19, believe there is no justification for a referral, they said.

"I think unanimity may be impossible," one European diplomat told Reuters. "Pakistan and Brazil have basically given us a definitive 'no'. "Several other countries will also be difficult to convince."

"China and Russia will be difficult," another EU diplomat said, adding that without Beijing and Moscow the plan to ratchet up the pressure on Tehran might fail. READ MORE

The United States and the European Union want the IAEA to refer Iran to the Security Council after it resumed uranium processing at its Isfahan plant last month, effectively ending talks with the EU on giving up its nuclear program.

European officials say they would not immediately ask the Council to impose sanctions, but want it to demand that Iran refreeze its program and resume talks with Britain, France and Germany, which are negotiating on behalf of the EU.

Iran denies U.S. accusations it is seeking nuclear bombs and says it is entitled to a peaceful nuclear electricity program. The EU and Washington say the only way for Iran to prove it does not want nuclear bombs is to give up sensitive nuclear work altogether.


Officials from the EU trio and the United States are trying to win around IAEA board members like Russia, China, India and South Africa, which see no need for U.N. Security Council scrutiny of Iran's nuclear program.

Iran is lobbying many of the same countries. Tehran says that since its suspension was voluntary, resumption of work is not grounds for a referral, an argument many states agree with.

EU and U.S. diplomats justify a referral by saying Iran covered up its uranium enrichment program for two decades and has failed to cooperate fully with IAEA inspectors.

Although much of the diplomacy is taking place quietly behind the scenes, several influential U.S. congressmen warned last week that a new U.S.-India nuclear agreement was at risk if New Delhi opposed the referral.

Diplomats said it would be all right if Pakistan, Brazil and a few others voted against a referral, but support of political heavyweights China and Russia, which have vetoes on the 15-member Security Council, would be crucial.

Also, in order to be effective, an IAEA resolution sending Iran to the Security Council would have to be endorsed by a large majority of the IAEA board.

The board of the IAEA, the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog, has traditionally included the permanent members of the Security Council -- Russia, China, Britain, France and the United States -- along with Germany, Japan and others with big civilian nuclear programs. Other countries tend to be rotated through.

Iran reiterated on Sunday that it would continue to process uranium at its Isfahan plant, despite the threat of referral to the U.N. Security Council.

"The resumption of the Isfahan plant's suspension is not part of our agenda and is out of the question for us," Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told a news conference.