AFP: The UN atomic agency begins a meeting Monday with
just about everybody from Washington to Tehran wanting to reach a decision about whether Iran is secretly developing nuclear weapons but no one expecting it to come this week. AFP
VIENNA – The UN atomic agency begins a meeting Monday with just about everybody from Washington to Tehran wanting to reach a decision about whether Iran is secretly developing nuclear weapons but no one expecting it to come this week.
The United States, which is convinced Iran has a covert program to build the bomb, would like to see the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency bring the Islamic Republic before the UN Security Council for possible sanctions but has little backing for this on the IAEA’s 35-nation board of governors which is meeting in Vienna.
Iran would like to see the IAEA drop its two-year-old inquest into Tehran’s nuclear program and certify that Iran’s atomic intentions are strictly peaceful but the IAEA will continue to investigate, diplomats said.
Britain, France and Germany, which are holding talks on behalf of the European Union with Iran, want more time to work out a deal for Tehran to abandon uranium enrichment, the key part of the nuclear fuel cycle, in return for trade and regional security benefits.
All this leaves room for political maneuvering, with the crunch time possibly coming at the next IAEA board meeting in June.
For the first time in seven board meetings since June 2003, IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei will not be submitting this week a written report on Iran, as he feels he has no major revelations after releasing a comprehensive report last November.
The November report documented almost two decades of hidden Iranian activity “to master an independent nuclear fuel cycle” but ElBaradei said “the jury is still out” on whether Iran is trying to develop atomic weapons.
ElBaradei will be reporting orally to the board on Monday.
Diplomats told AFP he will say that Iran has finished processing uranium whose treatment was already under way when Tehran, under Western pressure, agreed in November to a freeze on nuclear fuel work.
This will be seen as Iran halting an activity that was related to uranium enrichment, the diplomats said.
But ElBaradei will also report that Iran has not yet allowed IAEA inspectors to follow up inspections of Iran’s Parchin military facility, where Washington charges Tehran is simulating testing of atomic weapons, diplomat said.
One diplomat close to the IAEA, who asked not to be named, said that agency inspectors “want to go to Parchin (after a first visit in January) but Iran has not yet invited them.”
The diplomat said there are many things the IAEA still needs to look at and this includes “everything, anything, to do with high-explosive studies,” including bunkers for blasts and various equipment.
Meanwhile, US President George W. Bush said in Bratislava last week, where he held a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, that he was hopeful a diplomatic solution can be reached over Iran’s nuclear program.
But at the same time, US diplomats in Vienna were circulating a three-page statement to IAEA board members saying that ElBaradei should file a report on Iran ahead of the June board meeting in order to force a decision on Tehran’s nuclear program, a European diplomat told AFP.
The diplomat said the US efforts in Vienna were, unlike Bush’s comments in Bratislava, confrontational and “not helpful” to the EU-Iran negotiations which seek a diplomatic solution.
The EU-Iran talks are deadlocked, with Iran refusing the key European demand that it permanently abandon uranium enrichment.
The IAEA board meeting will also hear a report from ElBaradei on Egypt, which found the Arab country guilty of repeated failures to report nuclear activities but downplayed any suggestion this could be related to secret atomic weapons development, according to the report obtained by AFP.
Finally, the question of the election of a new IAEA director general will come up.
ElBaradei is the only candidate but the United States says heads of international organizations should not serve more than two terms, with diplomats saying Washington in fact wants ElBaradei out because it thinks he is too soft on Iran.
ElBaradei has however wide support from board members, with African, South American and non-aligned states having already submitted letters backing him.
Diplomats said a vote on ElBaradei, whose current term ends in November, will almost certainly be put off until June.
“Everybody’s giving it more time, hoping the Americans will in the end find room for compromise,” the European diplomat said.