Reuters: Western powers said on Wednesday that Iran's expansion of uranium enrichment, while stalling an inquiry into its nuclear program, posed a crucial challenge to the UN atomic watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.
By Mark Heinrich and Sylvia Westall
VIENNA (Reuters) – Western powers said on Wednesday that Iran's expansion of uranium enrichment, while stalling an inquiry into its nuclear program, posed a crucial challenge to the UN atomic watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.
But they did not threaten any action during a debate at the IAEA's board of governors, reflecting differences among six world powers negotiating with Iran over what to do after Russia snubbed a U.S.-led campaign for tough sanctions on Iran.
The IAEA said on September 15 that Iranian non-cooperation had stymied its inquiry into what it calls "serious" intelligence material from several sources said to show that Iran has pursued secret projects to design a nuclear weapon.
Iran says it will enrich uranium only to low levels for electricity generation. Western powers suspect Iran really wants to produce highly enriched uranium to fuel atomic bombs.
IAEA Director Mohamed ElBaradei told the 35-nation meeting on Monday Iran's argument that the investigation menaced its national security was insufficient. He said the IAEA could ensure the confidentiality of information provided to it.
The IAEA stresses the intelligence is unverified. Iran has denounced it as forgeries and says it could prove this if the IAEA gave it the original material — which Washington has refused to do for security reasons, diplomats say.
The intelligence material alleges that Iran in the past linked projects to process uranium, test high explosives at high altitudes and modify the cone of a long-range Shahab-3 missile to take a nuclear payload.
"The (IAEA) report presents a decidedly bleak picture. We now seem at a particularly critical juncture, with Iran now asserting there is nothing for the agency to investigate as far as possible military dimensions to its nuclear program are concerned," Germany, France and Britain, among the six big powers, said in a joint statement to the governors' meeting.
Current EU president France, speaking separately on behalf of the 27-nation bloc, spoke of an "alarming" situation.
"DELAY AND DENIAL STRATEGY"
U.S. Ambassador Gregory Schulte said Iran's "strategy of delay and denial" confronted non-proliferation guardians with a grave challenge they could ill-afford to lose.
The Western group again called on Iran to answer IAEA questions substantively rather than evade them without "reason or pretext," and to take up a world powers' offer of significant trade and diplomatic concessions if it suspends enrichment.
"If Iran does not seize (this) opportunity for talks … with the participation of a senior U.S. official, the price will be even greater international isolation," Schulte added.
That will not happen soon if a breakdown in six-power crisis diplomacy on Iran is anything to go by.
Foreign ministers of the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China scrapped talks this week to discuss a fourth round of sanctions after Moscow pulled out, a few days after an abortive meeting on the matter in Washington.
Russia, furious over U.S. calls for Moscow to be penalized over its war with Georgia, said it saw no need for the session on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York.
"We need to act. Our first task is to say things clearly, with a unified voice. We cannot allow ourselves to be slowly immunized (to the situation)," said French IAEA Ambassador Francois-Xavier Deniau. He did not say what should be done.
Iranian Ambassador Ali Asghar Soltanieh held a power-point briefing for journalists on Wednesday in which he tried to refute the intelligence material point by point.
He said documents shown to Iran in electronic form were bogus as they lacked classified seals, signatures and dates, were not in Iranian defense ministry format and were plagued by inconsistencies.
"No original documents have been presented to Iran because they don't exist. This investigation is over as far as we are concerned," Soltanieh declared.
(Editing by Tim Pearce)