AFP: The UN atomic watchdog said Thursday it was in the dark about Iran’s disputed nuclear programme, as its 35-member board seemed divided on how to get Tehran to shed more light on its activities. VIENNA (AFP) The UN atomic watchdog said Thursday it was in the dark about Iran’s disputed nuclear programme, as its 35-member board seemed divided on how to get Tehran to shed more light on its activities.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) “has so far not been able to verify some important aspects of Iran’s nuclear programme,” its director general Mohamed ElBaradei told a board meeting here.
He specifically cited key questions related to the scope and nature of Iran’s centrifuge enrichment activities, “as well as those relevant to alleged studies and other activities that could have military applications”.
As a result, the UN watchdog was “unable to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities,” ElBaradei complained.
The Egyptian-born diplomat noted that the IAEA had seen an increased level of cooperation from Iran in answering questions about the past, but its knowledge of Tehran’s current programme has “diminished” since 2006.
Furthermore, Iran’s cooperation was more “reactive than pro-active,” he lamented.
Western countries described ElBaradei’s findings as “disturbing”, arguing that tougher sanctions were needed to force Iran to suspend uranium enrichment, a potential pathway to the atom bomb, and make a full confession about the nature of its nuclear activities, both past and present.
“Despite four years of intensive investigation… the IAEA has stated that its knowledge of Iran’s nuclear programme is diminishing,” the US ambassador to the IAEA, Gregory Schulte, told board members.
Schulte accused Iran of deliberately trying to stave off further UN sanctions by offering only piecemeal cooperation. And he said there was little hope of greater transparency in the future.
“We fear that the next few weeks will not yield much more from Iran than we’ve seen in the last few months or, for that matter, the last five years,” Schulte.
The so-called EU-3 of France, Germany and Britain was similarly concerned.
“We’re disappointed that cooperation by Iran is only partial and reactive,” said French ambassador Francois-Xavier Deniau.
“Waiting is not an option,” he said. “Under these conditions, we believe it it is necessary to set a deadline to the process and that that deadline be in a few weeks, as proposed by the director general.”
But not everyone agreed.
The so-called non-aligned countries, headed by Cuba, described the progress shown by Iran so far as “a very positive step,” said Cuban ambassador Norma Goicochea Estenoz.
She reiterated Cuba’s long-held position that the Iranian dossier should never have been referred to the UN Security Council and that it should go back to the IAEA, effectively meaning no more sanctions.
Diplomats attending the meeting, which was expected to continue on Friday, said that Russia and China, both permanent members of the Security Council, had similarly “emphasised the positive aspects of Iran’s cooperation.”
Nevertheless, they too called on Iran to suspend enrichment and allow more intrusive inspections by the IAEA.
For the west, the main bone of contention in the nuclear stand-off is Iran’s adamant refusal to suspend uranium enrichment, which can be used not only to produce nuclear fuel, but also make nuclear weapons.
In fact, Tehran has actually stepped up such activities, flying in the face of repeated UN demands to stop.
Iran insists it has an inalienable right to pursue such activities in order to generate electricity for a growing population.
And Iran’s UN envoy to the IAEA, Ali-Asghar Soltanieh, warned that any talk of possible sanctions would be “counterproductive.”
The next step on the road to possible sanctions is a widely anticipated report by EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana on the Iran issue.
Solana has been trying to persuade Tehran to resume talks on suspending uranium enrichment in exchange for a package of political and economic incentives, but Tehran has refused to offer concessions.
Solana said he would meet Iran’s top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili in London next week.