Soft European line on Iran undermining US stance
VIENNA: European successes in winning Iranian cooperation on nuclear issues are making it difficult for the United States to bring Iran before the UN Security Council as a non-proliferation violator, diplomats said on Wednesday.
The UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, is to meet at its headquarters in Vienna on March 8 to consider the question of Iran, which the United States charges is hiding a program to develop atomic weapons. US undersecretary of state for non-proliferation issues John Bolton had said earlier this month: “There’s no doubt that Iran continues a nuclear program.”
“There is no doubt we think that the case of Iran should be referred in the (United Nations) Security Council,” Bolton said.
US President George W Bush has labeled Iran part of an “axis of evil” - states trying to develop weapons of mass destruction.
But the United States failed at an IAEA board of governors meeting in November to get the board’s other 34 member states to follow it in hauling Iran up before the UN Security Council, which could impose punishing sanctions.
Britain, France and Germany, which advocate a policy of constructive engagement with Tehran, had convinced Iran just a month before, in an agreement reached in Tehran on October 21, to come clean on its nuclear program.
The IAEA board, which includes non-aligned states favorable to Iran, decided that Iran should be given a chance, even though the board condemned the Islamic Republic for nearly two decades of covert nuclear activities.
But the IAEA said in a report Tuesday ahead of the March board meeting that Iran had failed since October to report possibly weapons-related atomic activities, despite promising full disclosure.
The IAEA said Iran had not told the agency it had designs for sophisticated “P-2” centrifuges for enriching uranium nor that it had produced polonium-210, an element which could be used as a “neutron initiator (to start the chain reaction) in some designs of nuclear weapons.” But diplomats said this would not be enough for the United States to win backing for the sanctions it seeks, since European nations still want to give Iran a chance to cooperate.
The report included an important gesture by Iran. It said Iran had, only hours before the report was issued, promised to suspend all activities related to uranium enrichment, including “the assembly and testing of centrifuges.”
Iran had previously suspended uranium enrichment, but was still making centrifuges. A senior official close to the IAEA said this wider suspension “only came as a result of very intensive discussions” by European countries in Brussels with Iranian representatives.
“It’s a beginning of a mainstreaming of Iran with Europe,” the official said. “This will open the door to a dialogue with the Europeans,” he said, adding that this could involve a “trade agreement” or even “relaxation of sanctions on some technology controls.”
Another diplomat said the report prepared for the March 8 meeting, unlike a report issued before the November meeting, does not accuse Iran of breaching safeguards agreements from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
“It’s a progress report,” the diplomat said, noting that the IAEA seems to want to avoid the controversy that swirled in November when the United States claimed the report justified sending Iran to the Security Council.
The diplomat said IAEA member states “have finally gotten what they wanted, the 100 percent suspension of uranium enrichment and related activities.”
He said it would be unfortunate if European successes in getting the Iranians to cooperate “disturbed other plans,” a clear reference to the Americans. —AFP