Reuters: The chief of the U.N. nuclear watchdog will tell sceptical nations on its governing board this week Iran’s pledge of atomic transparency should be given a chance to work, not dismissed as a time-buying ruse. By Mark Heinrich
VIENNA (Reuters) – The chief of the U.N. nuclear watchdog will tell sceptical nations on its governing board this week Iran’s pledge of atomic transparency should be given a chance to work, not dismissed as a time-buying ruse.
An ambiguously-worded deal Iran agreed with International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors to explain the murky scope of its nuclear programme faces scrutiny at a meeting of the IAEA’s 35-nation board starting on Monday.
The plan has vexed Western powers by allowing Iran to answer questions one by one according to a vague timeline while leaving untouched its expanding uranium-enrichment programme, a possible route to atom bombs, despite U.N. resolutions demanding a halt.
It has also wrong-footed a U.S.-led push to rein in Iran by eroding European support for, and stiffening Russian resistance to, tougher U.N. sanctions. Iran won the reprieve by threatening to cut off the IAEA if pressure intensifies, diplomats said.
After sparring with Washington over the plan and receiving a demarche from its closest EU allies, IAEA Director Mohamed ElBaradei said he would underline to the board that the deal marks an important step forward, not a damaging setback.
Western delegates said they were looking for ElBaradei to correct impressions left by the plan’s text that the IAEA could make no more inquiries once historical questions were solved even if fresh suspicions arose, and excused Iran from U.N. demands to grant wider inspections or suspend enrichment.
ElBaradei said those perceptions were indeed incorrect. “There has been quite a lot of misunderstanding,” he said.
The plan is a “working document” to be built on, not a final treaty that precludes any measures not spelled out, he told reporters invited to a rare briefing on Friday.
He said he would also make clear the IAEA would insist on documentation and access to hitherto off-limits areas to check Iranian answers, a key measure missing from the plan.
“Whether Iran will walk out of this understanding, I don’t know now. All we know is that Iran has committed to cooperating and clearing their name. We have to give them that chance.”
U.S. SOFTENS CRITICISM
Iran says its nuclear energy quest is solely for electricity generation, not a front for bombmaking as the West suspects, and it is serious about going the extra mile to overcome mistrust
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Iran would not bow to Western pressure and halt its atomic work and suggested there was growing acceptance for Tehran’s position in the nuclear row.
He said Asian and non-aligned countries had already accepted that Iran’s nuclear activities were peaceful: “There are only one or two countries who do not understand the reality and they imagine that they can make the Iranian nation retreat.”
Gregory Schulte, U.S. ambassador to the IAEA who at first suggested IAEA negotiators had been outfoxed by Iran, said on Friday the plan had potential merit if Tehran departed from a record of evasion and actually carried it out.
Western diplomats said ElBaradei had privately assured them he would judge by November, when the board holds its year-end meeting, whether Iran was serious. If not, that would help create a basis for a third, stronger sanctions resolution.
ElBaradei said he predicted broad support for the plan at the board gathering once he clarified its dimensions.
But diplomats said the board would only “take note” of, not endorse the plan since it failed to mandate extra inspections of sites not declared to be nuclear, crucial to verifying Iran has no hidden bomb programme, or mention an enrichment suspension.
“We’re prepared to see this plan proceed as a litmus test of Iranian intentions. But we’re sceptical of their motives. They have plenty of opportunities to drag this thing out,” a senior Western diplomat said.
(Additional reporting by Tehran bureau)