Reuters: The International Atomic Energy Agency is pushing Iran to agree to cameras in its underground nuclear plant within days and Western states are mulling whether to seek a crisis IAEA meeting if Tehran refuses, diplomats said. By Mark Heinrich
VIENNA (Reuters) – The International Atomic Energy Agency is pushing Iran to agree to cameras in its underground nuclear plant within days and Western states are mulling whether to seek a crisis IAEA meeting if Tehran refuses, diplomats said.
The U.N. Security Council widened sanctions against Iran last week after it defied a second deadline for it to stop enriching uranium, which Iran says will yield solely electricity but world powers fear is a disguised atomic bomb program.
Tehran, disputing any obligation to do so, has refused to let the U.N. watchdog set up cameras in the Natanz plant where it has installed about a third of 3,000 centrifuges it plans to have running by May to launch “industrial scale” enrichment.
The dispute over Iran’s nuclear program has been overshadowed by Tehran’s capture of 15 British naval personnel. Some analysts have suggested Iran seized the British sailors in order to distract world attention from the nuclear issue.
Diplomats familiar with IAEA operations said the agency’s director for nuclear safeguards, Olli Heinonen, had written to Tehran pressing it to relent on cameras within days, with the end of March in mind as the target for a positive answer.
Such cameras, which the IAEA wants to stream images straight to its Vienna headquarters, are seen by inspectors as vital to helping them verify Iran does not enrich uranium to high levels suitable for bomb fuel, or divert materials toward that end.
Iran denies any such intent and has said such intrusive surveillance goes beyond its basic safeguards commitment with the IAEA, while saying it hopes disputes over the extent of monitoring at the plant can be settled to mutual satisfaction.
But doubt over Iran’s intentions prevails abroad since it hid sensitive enrichment research from the IAEA for 18 years and continues to stonewall agency inquiries meant to determine whether its program is wholly peaceful or not.
Diplomats said a number of the IAEA board’s 35 member nations met on Tuesday with some Western envoys mooting whether a crisis board meeting might be needed to declare Iran in non-compliance with safeguards rules for blocking cameras.
“The meeting was inconclusive. There was no consensus over the legalities. It’s a matter of interpretation. The Iranians are very good at exploiting legal gray areas and there are gray areas here,” said one senior diplomat accredited to the IAEA.
Diplomats said IAEA experts were re-examining the fine print of Iran’s cooperation accords with the agency.
Board members would be scrutinizing Iran’s response to Heinonen’s concerted approach in the next few days before trying to work out a course of action, they added.
The United States denied reports that it was lobbying for a special meeting to haul Iran on the carpet again, a year after the governors referred Iran to the Security Council over its defiance of calls to suspend enrichment as a confidence-building measure and its lack of cooperation with IAEA investigations.
“The U.S. mission is closely monitoring developments related to Iran’s nuclear activities, including (the camera issue), and is in regular consultation with other missions,” said U.S. mission spokesman Matthew Boland.
“We strongly support the agency’s efforts to safeguard nuclear material in Iran and investigate troubling issues about Iran’s program,” he said.
The latest IAEA report on Iran issued a month ago said the agency had struck a deal with the Islamic Republic for more frequent inspector visits to Natanz to improve transparency.
But it said Iran had been informed that remote monitoring would be required once the number of centrifuges exceeded 500.
Iran has said this stance has no legal foundation.
Angered over broader sanctions imposed on Saturday, Iran announced it will no longer give the IAEA early word of plans to build nuclear installations, backing out of a voluntary 2002 agreement supplementing its 1974 basic safeguards treaty.
The move symbolized growing IAEA difficulty in tracking Iran’s nuclear activity. Last year Iran canceled voluntary compliance with snap inspections at sites not declared to be nuclear. In January it banned 38 inspectors from Western states, handicapping the 200-member contingent assigned to work in Iran.