Friday, September 23, 2005

Iran's Allies Urge It To Compromise On Nuclear Program

Dow Jones Newswires:
Iran's allies urged it to compromise Friday in an effort to blunt a U.S.-backed European push to refer the country to the U.N. Security Council but diplomats said Tehran seemed unlikely to meet Western demands and stop uranium conversion. A 35-nation board meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency was suspended to allow for backroom consultations on a solution that would deflect Western plans to bring referral to a vote.

The West was unlikely to back down unless the Iranians offered to re-impose a freeze on conversion, a precursor to enrichment, which can be used to generate nuclear fuel or the fissile material for warheads. But diplomats from countries allied with Iran at the meeting said Tehran showed no willingness to make such an offer. READ MORE

Lack of compromise would set the stage for voting on one of two European Union resolutions - one implicitly establishing the right of the board to report Iran to the council at a later session and the other asking for immediate referral.

Iran insists its nuclear activities haven't violated the treaty.

The Europeans were keeping both options alive in hopes that even those opposing referral would reluctantly accept the toned-down E.U. draft over the harsher one demanding immediate action, diplomats familiar with the West's strategy said.

That would suit both the E.U. and U.S., by giving them time to work on winning over Russia while keeping the pressure on Iran to comply with demands to cease suspect nuclear activities and cooperate fully with IAEA inspectors.

Neither text calls for Security Council sanctions. Still, China is considered immovable in its opposition to referral, and Russia's atomic energy chief, Alexander Rumyantsev, on Thursday reiterated Moscow's opposition to Security Council involvement.

But a European official said: "The key is to gain Russia, and we think we can gain Russia at a later date."

Like the diplomats, the official demanded anonymity in exchange for discussing confidential details of the behind-the-scenes negotiations at the meeting.

The Europeans for years avoided U.S. demands for support in its push to haul Iran before the Security Council. But they reluctantly swung behind Washington in August, after Tehran effectively walked away from talks with the U.K., France and Germany meant to reduce suspicions about its nuclear aims and began uranium conversion.

Beyond establishing the grounds for Security Council action on "noncompliance" with provisions of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty the milder E.U. draft holds out additional threats of future referral. It says the next board meeting will decide on "the timing and content" of when and what to report about Iran to the Security Council.

Still, it is less direct that the other text, which requests that IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei immediately report to the council "Iran's many failures and breaches of its obligations to comply" with the treaty. It also asks the council to expand the IAEA's inspection powers in Iran and to request that Tehran resume a recently broken freeze on activities linked to uranium enrichment.

More than a third of IAEA board member nations meeting in Vienna oppose Security Council referral.

Both drafts are formally E.U. initiatives but are being orchestrated in close consultation with Washington and backed by Australia, Japan, Canada and others.

A diplomat familiar with U.S. thinking said acceptance of the new draft - which delays referral - would suit Washington, which didn't want to back down but was not interested in an immediate Security Council battle it cannot win against veto-wielding permanent members Russia and China.