Iran Nuclear NewsUN atomic watchdog meets with Iran top of the...

UN atomic watchdog meets with Iran top of the agenda

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AFP: The board of the UN’s atomic energy watchdog met Thursday to discuss Iran’s disputed nuclear drive and the threat of renewed United Nations sanctions on Tehran. VIENNA (AFP) — The board of the UN’s atomic energy watchdog met Thursday to discuss Iran’s disputed nuclear drive and the threat of renewed United Nations sanctions on Tehran.

A number of different topics were slated for discussion during the regular year-end meeting, which began at the International Atomic Energy Agency’s headquarters at 10:30 am (0930 GMT) and was expected to last two days.

But the Iran nuclear dossier was set to dominate following a rather mixed report by IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei last week on Tehran’s cooperation in coming clean about the nature and extent of its controversial atomic programme.

In his nine-page report on Iran last week, ElBaradei found that Iran had cleared up a number of key questions with regard to its nuclear activity in the past. But it warned that the IAEA’s knowledge of Tehran’s current atomic activities was “diminishing”.

In addition, Iran was continuing to defy repeated UN demands that it suspend uranium enrichment, a key phase in the nuclear fuel cycle.

The US and its European allies, who believe Iran is running a covert nuclear weapons programme, have said they would press for new sanctions against the Islamic republic in the wake of such findings.

Other countries, not least Russia and China, permanent members of the UN Security Council, have expressed reluctance to back the sanctions.

No resolutions are scheduled to be passed by the IAEA board this week.

But the board meeting would provide an opportunity for countries to state their various positions on ElBaradei’s report, diplomats said.

“I expect that many board members are going to support Mohamed ElBaradei in his urging Iran to cooperate fully with the agency and… to suspend their enrichment activities,” the US ambassador to the IAEA Gregory Schulte told reporters late Wednesday.

But there appeared to be divisions on the 35-member board over the international community’s handling of the issue and how best to persuade Tehran to cooperate.

In a sharply worded letter to the IAEA board, a copy of which was obtained by AFP, the so-called non-aligned countries hit out at Israel for recent trenchant criticism of ElBaradei.

Last week, Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Majalli Whbee had complained that ElBaradei’s report “fails to expose” Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s nuclear intentions.

“ElBaradei is hiding his head in the sand and exposing the region and the entire world to a real threat,” the minister said.

Earlier, Israel had even suggested that ElBaradei be replaced.

In the letter, signed by Cuba, the head of the non-aligned countries, and Sudan, which heads the G77 countries, Israel was not named directly.

But the signatories said that “recent declarations made by senior officials of one government” were “aimed at misleading the international public opinion by projecting a negative, partial and wrong perspective of the work of the IAEA and of its Director General, both recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize.”

The remarks violated IAEA’s statute whereby member states undertake not to influence the agency and its director general in the discharge of their duties, the letter argued.

In Tehran, Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, insisted Thursday that a meeting with EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana would go ahead this month.

Jalili told reporters that he would meet Solana in London on November 30.

Solana must report to the UN Security Council by the end of November on Tehran’s willingness to comply with the council’s demand to freeze uranium enrichment.

Jalili said he was “optimistic” about the talks.

“I have ideas and on the basis of these ideas we will continue our discussions and if the other side has the same view we can envisage a good future in the negotiations,” he said.

He said Tehran would consider any offer in line with the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty but “nothing that goes beyond that” — a reference to Iran’s right to enrich uranium.

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