Iran Nuclear NewsU.N. nuclear chief pressured over Iran

U.N. nuclear chief pressured over Iran

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AP: The chief U.N. nuclear inspector’s approach to Iran is leading to U.S. accusations that he has overstepped his authority, diplomats said Sunday, as Iran’s supreme leader denied Western assertions that his country was interested in atomic weapons. Associated Press

By GEORGE JAHN

Associated Press Writer

VIENNA, Austria (AP) – The chief U.N. nuclear inspector’s approach to Iran is leading to U.S. accusations that he has overstepped his authority, diplomats said Sunday, as Iran’s supreme leader denied Western assertions that his country was interested in atomic weapons.

The diplomats – all linked to the International Atomic Energy Agency – suggested that U.S. disenchantment with Mohamed ElBaradei was at its highest since early 2005. That was when Washington considered pushing for his ouster because it considered him too soft on Iran and a drag on attempts to refer the Islamic republic to the U.N. Security Council – something that finally happened last year.

Faced with majority support for ElBaradei among his agency’s 35-nation board, the Americans dropped public opposition, and he was appointed for his third and final term in February 2005.

But U.S. displeasure with ElBaradei, which he first incurred when he challenged Washington’s assertions of a nuclear weapons program in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, was again aroused this year.

First, the IAEA head suggested it was too late to expect Iran to scrap its uranium enrichment program – a key demand from Washington – provoking several formal protests from the U.S., said the diplomats, who spoke on condition of anonymity in exchange for discussing confidential matters with The Associated Press.

Washington accuses Iran of wanting to build nuclear arms – something Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei denied Sunday, saying his country had “no plans to create this deadly weapon.”

In July, ElBaradei’s agency displeased the Americans further by signing a deal committing the Iranians to end years of stonewalling and answer questions about more than two decades of nuclear activities – most of it secret, and some of it with possible links to a weapons program.

A report to be discussed by the board describes Iran’s cooperation under the plan as “a significant step forward.” But the U.S. continues to suspect that Iran is exploiting the plan to deflect attention from its continued defiance of a Security Council ban on enrichment, a potential pathway to nuclear arms.

The diplomats said Washington – and most other Western board members – also feel that ElBaradei overstepped his authority by agreeing to such a deal without consulting the IAEA board.

But publicly, Washington and other nations backing new U.N. sanctions against Iran have toned down initial criticism over the pact.

A diplomat said opposition could leave the impression that the U.S., France and Britain, the most vocal backers of new U.N. sanctions, did not care about resolving the issue that had sent Iran’s nuclear file to the Security Council in the first place – its refusal to cooperate in dispelling suspicions about past nuclear activities.

The Americans had sought to downplay differences as recently as Friday, with Gregory L. Schulte, the chief U.S. delegate to the IAEA, saying his country “appreciates and supports” IAEA efforts to glean information from Iran.

At the same time, he said, Iran “should suspend activities of international concern” – shorthand for enrichment.

Asked Sunday about the U.S. stance on ElBaradei, Schulte’s spokeswoman, Susan Doman, said: “The U.S. holds the IAEA and its director-general in high regard.”

ElBaradei himself has started hitting back. On Friday, he disparaged those who criticize the Iran-IAEA cooperation plan without giving it enough time.

ElBaradei warned against “war-drums” rhetoric on Iran that is a “reminder of prewar Iraq.”

And he dismissed calls for board involvement in agreements between the agency and one of its members – such as the cooperation pact – as “bonkers,” and “micromanagement.”

But David Albright, a former U.N. nuclear inspector, said “because of the political sensitivity of the issue the board should have been consulted.”

“I think what the U.S. is objecting to is that ElBaradei is trying to use the IAEA to do international diplomacy,” he said. “ElBaradei doesn’t have that mandate.”

Suggesting the cooperation plan was flawed, Albright said that by embracing it, ElBaradei was “fitting the facts on the ground” to try to prevent armed conflict over Iran in a similarly selective way that the U.S. administration did to justify the invasion of Iraq.

The Vienna-based diplomats said that because of the pressure, the agency chief had agreed to stress the need for Iran to freeze enrichment in remarks to the board meeting that opens Monday.

That commitment came after formal protests from the “pro-sanctions camp” about the IAEA-Iran pact and lack of board consultation on it, said one of the diplomats.

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