Iran Nuclear NewsIran's no-show at IAEA fuels tension in atomic row

Iran’s no-show at IAEA fuels tension in atomic row

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Reuters: Iran’s no-show for a meeting with the U.N. nuclear watchdog to explain its move to resume atomic fuel research has hardened sentiment that diplomacy may have to give way to action to rein in Tehran, diplomats say. By Mark Heinrich

VIENNA (Reuters) – Iran’s no-show for a meeting with the U.N. nuclear watchdog to explain its move to resume atomic fuel research has hardened sentiment that diplomacy may have to give way to action to rein in Tehran, diplomats say.

The “EU3” group, Britain, France and Germany, dealing with Iran’s contentious nuclear programme will wait to see if the Islamic republic restarts research work next week, as announced, before deciding whether to seek moves towards punitive sanctions.

But an EU3 diplomat said the “prospect of Iran backtracking looks unlikely” and undermined the rationale for talks set to resume on January 18 on a solution to a stalemate over Western suspicions Tehran is secretly trying to build atomic bombs.

Iran, which says its atomic programme is to make electricity not bombs, declared on Tuesday it would resume on January 9 nuclear fuel research and development (R&D) shelved over a year ago to defuse Western pressure. It pledged to coordinate the work with the IAEA and subject it to oversight by IAEA safeguards experts.

But Iran did not spell out what new R&D entailed. It could range from small-scale tests on enriching uranium to assembling centrifuges that purify the mineral to a grade suitable for powering nuclear reactors — or a higher level for weapons.

IAEA director-general Mohamed ElBaradei called on Iran for explanations. Iran arranged to send envoys to ElBaradei at his Vienna headquarters on Thursday to clarify its intentions.

“First the Iranians phoned to say they’d be late, then phoned to say they wouldn’t make it at all. We still expect them to explain themselves before they resume any activities,” said a diplomat close to the IAEA.

In the absence of Iranian comment, analysts said reasons for the no-show could run from a decision to pursue R&D work, daring the West to impose sanctions, to discord within Iran’s complex power structure over whether to deal with or defy the West.

“Their behaviour could mean they have decided to ignore world reaction and dispense with explanations, or some dispute in Tehran about their course of action,” said Mark Fitzpatrick of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.

“Whatever, this week’s events bring us closer to the real crunch point, which is referring Iran to the U.N. Security Council (for possible sanctions). Any research at all with centrifuges could be the tipping point for referral.”

Options for the EU, backed by Washington, would include cancelling the Vienna talks and mustering an emergency meeting of the IAEA’s 35-nation board of governors for a vote to refer Iran to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions.

Iran is under world scrutiny for having hidden nuclear work for almost 20 years, for delays and evasions in dealings with the IAEA since, and over calls for Israel’s destruction.

Britain has called Iran’s announcement of fresh research work “provocative”. Washington said Iran appeared averse to a diplomatic deal.

At its last gathering in November, the 35-nation IAEA board put off a referral vote to allow time for diplomacy.

(Additional reporting by Madeline Chambers in London and Saul Hudson in Washington)

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