Baradei pressured on his Iran approach

Diplomats cite heightened US disenchantment with IAEA chief; Khamenei: Iran has no plans for A-bomb.

September 9, 2007 21:24
3 minute read.
Baradei pressured on his Iran approach

khamenei the boss!!. (photo credit: AP)


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Chief nuclear inspector Mohamed El-Baradei's approach on Iran is leading to US accusations that he has overstepped his authority, diplomats said Sunday, amid new assurances from Teheran that the country is not interested in nuclear arms. The diplomats - all linked to the International Atomic Energy Agency - suggested that US disenchantment with IAEA chief Baradei was at its highest since early 2005. That was when Washington actively considered pushing for his ouster because it considered him too soft on Iran and a drag on attempts to refer the Islamic republic to the UN Security Council - something that finally happened last year. Faced with majority support for Baradei among his agency's 35-nation board, the Americans dropped public opposition, and he was appointed for his third and final term in February 2005. But US displeasure was again aroused this year. First, Baradei suggested it was too late to expect Iran to scrap its uranium enrichment program - a key demand from Washington, provoking several US diplomatic demarches, or formal protests, said diplomats. Washington accuses Iran of wanting to build nuclear arms - something Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei denied Sunday, saying his country had "no plans to create this deadly weapon." In July, Baradei's agency displeased the Americans further by signing a deal with Teheran committing the Iranians to end years of stonewalling and answer questions about more than two decades of nuclear activities - most of it secret, and some of it with possible links to a weapons program. A report to be discussed by the board describes Iran's cooperation under the plan as "a significant step forward." But the US continues to suspect that Iran is exploiting the plan as a smoke screen to deflect attention from its continued defiance of a Security Council ban on enrichment, a potential pathway to nuclear arms. The diplomats said Washington - and most other Western board members - also feels that Baradei overstepped his authority by agreeing to such a deal without consulting the IAEA board. But publicly, Washington and other nations backing new UN sanctions against Teheran have toned down initial criticism over the pact because they have realized that opposition could backfire. A diplomat said opposition could leave the impression that the US France and Britain, the most vocal backers of new UN sanctions, did not care about resolving the issue that had sent Iran's nuclear file to the Security Council in the first place - its refusal to cooperate in dispelling suspicions about past nuclear activities. The Americans had sought to downplay differences as recently as Friday, with Gregory L. Schulte, the chief US delegate to the IAEA, saying his country "appreciates and supports" IAEA efforts to glean information from Teheran. At the same time, he said, Teheran "should suspend activities of international concern" - shorthand for enrichment. Asked Sunday about the US stance on Baradei, Schulte spokeswoman Susan Doman said: "The US holds the IAEA and its director-general in high regard." Baradei himself has started hitting back. Also Friday, he disparaged those who second guess and criticize the Iran-IAEA cooperation plan without giving it enough time. Baradei, who first incurred US displeasure by challenging Washington's assertions of a nuclear weapons program in Saddam's Iraq, warned against "war-drums" rhetoric on Iran that is a "reminder of prewar Iraq." And he dismissed calls for board involvement in agreements between the agency and one of its members - such as the cooperation pact - as "bonkers," and "micromanagement." "This is clearly a working document between the secretariat and Iran" that the board has no business getting involved in, he said. Former UN nuclear inspector David Albright, said, however, that "because of the political sensitivity of the issue the board should have been consulted." "I think what the US is objecting to is that Baradei is trying to use the IAEA to do international diplomacy," he said. "Baradei doesn't have that mandate." Suggesting the cooperation plan was flawed, Albright said that by embracing it, Baradei was "fitting the facts on the ground" to try to prevent armed conflict over Iran in a similarly selective way that the US administration did to justify the invasion of Saddam's Iraq. The Vienna-based diplomats said that because of the pressure, the agency chief had agreed to stress the need for Iran to freeze enrichment in remarks to the board meeting that opens Monday. That commitment came after formal protests from the "pro-sanctions camp" about the IAEA-Iran pact and lack of board consultation on it, said one of the diplomats.

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