Iran Nuclear NewsUS swings behind UN's ElBaradei, takes aim at nuclear...

US swings behind UN’s ElBaradei, takes aim at nuclear Iran

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Reuters: The governing board of the U.N. nuclear watchdog is expected to formally approve Mohamed ElBaradei’s third term as the agency’s chief on Monday after Washington ended its efforts to oust him, diplomats said. But the United States has not given up its battle against Iran’s nuclear programme, which Washington says is a front to develop nuclear weapons. Iran denies this, insisting its atomic ambitions are limited to the peaceful generation of electricity. Reuters

By Louis Charbonneau

VIENNA – The governing board of the U.N. nuclear watchdog is expected to formally approve Mohamed ElBaradei’s third term as the agency’s chief on Monday after Washington ended its efforts to oust him, diplomats said.

But the United States has not given up its battle against Iran’s nuclear programme, which Washington says is a front to develop nuclear weapons. Iran denies this, insisting its atomic ambitions are limited to the peaceful generation of electricity.

“The U.S. has taken the most graceful way out of this situation,” a Western diplomat said ahead of the meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) board of governors.

“It has decided to back ElBaradei in exchange for what it hopes will be a tougher stance on Iran,” the diplomat said on condition of anonymity.

Washington said it opposed the 62-year-old Egyptian, who has run the IAEA since 1997, because it believes U.N. agency heads should only have two terms. But U.N. diplomats say the real reason is the U.S. belief that he was soft on Iraq and Iran.

Diplomats at the Vienna-based IAEA denied that ElBaradei had cut any deals with the Americans to get their backing when the 35 nations on the IAEA board vote on his reappointment bid.

ElBaradei’s deputy, Pierre Goldschmidt, will inform the board about progress in the IAEA’s two-year probe of Iran.

“It’s going to be a tough report,” a diplomat from one of the three European states negotiating with Iran told Reuters. “It’s going to please the Americans but not the Iranians.”

The EU’s three big powers — France, Britain and Germany — share U.S. suspicions that Iran wants nuclear weapons and are determined to prevent Tehran from mastering the science of uranium enrichment, a process of purifying uranium for use as fuel in nuclear power plants or weapons.

Iran has frozen its enrichment programme temporarily, but has rejected the EU trio’s offer of U.S.-backed incentives if it terminates and dismantles all its enrichment-related facilities.

Tehran has said it would only maintain the suspension until the end of July, when the Europeans have promised to deliver a detailed offer of incentives for the Islamic republic.

IRAN ACQUITTED ON URANIUM CHARGES

Diplomats said the board may also hear how Pakistan has helped the IAEA confirm Iran’s explanation for the discovery of bomb-grade uranium on machinery Iran bought on the black market.

A preliminary analysis of Pakistani components for enrichment centrifuges identical to ones Iran purchased from Pakistan appears to back Tehran’s assertion that the traces of bomb-grade uranium were the result of contamination, Vienna officials familiar with the IAEA investigation of Iran said.

The board will also discuss its other major headache — North Korea — which expelled IAEA inspectors in late 2002 and later withdrew from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

ElBaradei has described North Korea, which says it has already developed nuclear weapons, as the greatest proliferation threat facing the world. He has urged Pyongyang to return to the six-party talks aimed at persuading it to return to the NPT.

Finally, the IAEA board is expected to approve a request by Saudi Arabia to sign an agreement that would severely curtail the agency’s ability to verify that Riyadh does not have any nuclear secrets, diplomats on the IAEA board said.

The United States and the European Union have asked Saudi Arabia to withdraw its request to sign the IAEA agreement but Riyadh refused, the diplomats said.

A Saudi Foreign Ministry official said on Sunday the kingdom wanted to cooperate with the IAEA and had no “nuclear installations, reactors, fissile or source materials”. But the official signalled the Saudis still wanted to sign the agreement

The “small quantities protocol” is an accord states which say they have little or no nuclear material can sign with the IAEA. The agency has said that it is a dangerous loophole in the IAEA inspection regime because the U.N. body lacks the right to verify that states meet the requirements.

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