IAEA board rebukes defiant Iran over nuclear program

Big powers bridge splits to show common front towards Iran; Resolution omits concrete punitive steps reflecting Russian, Chinese opposition; Iranian ambassador to Vienna-based IAEA lashes out at nuclear UN watchdog.

November 18, 2011 18:35
3 minute read.
IAEA meeting Director General Yukiya Amano

IAEA meeting Director General Yukiya Amano 311 . (photo credit: Herwig Prammer / Reuters)


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VIENNA - The UN nuclear watchdog board of governors censured Iran on Friday over mounting suspicions it may be seeking to develop atomic bombs, after the six big powers overcame divisions on how to best deal with a defiant Tehran.

But the resolution, which won overwhelming support at the 35-nation meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), omitted any concrete punitive steps, reflecting Russian and Chinese opposition to cornering Iran.

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It was adopted by 32 votes for and two against - Cuba and Ecuador. Indonesia abstained.

Iran showed no sign of backing down in the protracted dispute over its atomic activities, threatening to take legal action against the Vienna-based UN agency for issuing a hard-hitting report about Tehran's nuclear program.

Last week's IAEA report presented a stash of intelligence indicating that Iran has undertaken research and experiments geared to developing a nuclear weapons capability. It has stoked tensions in the Middle East and redoubled calls in Western capitals for stiffer sanctions against Tehran.

Iran says it is enriching uranium only as fuel for nuclear power plants, not atomic weapons. It has dismissed the details in the IAEA report obtained mainly from Western spy agencies as fabricated, and accusing the IAEA of a pro-Western slant.

Iran's ambassador to the Vienna-based IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, accused the agency of leaking the report early to the United States, Britain and France. Some of its contents appeared in Western media before their release on 8 November.

Iran considers the IAEA report "unprofessional, unbalanced, illegal and politicized", Soltanieh told the board meeting before the vote, the second against Iran in as many years.

"Any resolutions based on this report ... are not legally binding, thus they are not applicable."

Overcoming divisions between the big powers

The six powers spearheading diplomacy on Iran - the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany - this week ironed out the resolution in intense talks and submitted it to the board, a mix of industrialized and developing countries.

The fact that it was backed by all the big powers guaranteed it would sail through the board, whose governors comprise a mix of industrialized and developing states.

But it will not placate those in the West and in Israel, Iran's arch-foe, who had hoped Amano's report would bring about concrete international action to corral Tehran, such as an IAEA referral of its case to the UN Security Council.

"At this point, it doesn't really ratchet up the pressure on Iran," said proliferation expert Mark Hibbs of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, noting the text did not set any deadlines for Iran to resolve outstanding issues.

With several rounds of nuclear talks having led nowhere, failing even to agree an agenda, the Security Council has imposed four rounds of sanctions on Iran since 2006. But Moscow and Beijing, with hefty trade and energy stakes in Iran, have made clear their opposition to further such steps.

Diplomats cast the powers' resolution text as a compromise between Western states, which would have preferred sharper language, and Russia and China, which resisted out of concern not to lose trade or burn all bridges for talks with Tehran.

Russia has criticized the IAEA for publishing its report on Iran last week. In contrast, Western states seized on it to press for additional sanctions on the Islamic Republic, but Russia has flatly ruled this out at the UN level.

The resolution expressed "deep and increasing concern about the unresolved issues regarding the Iranian nuclear program, including those which need to be clarified to exclude the existence of possible military dimensions".

It called on Tehran to open up fully to UN inspectors and investigators and "engage seriously and without preconditions in talks" to address nuclear concerns. It asked Amano to report back to the board's next meeting in March.

In November 2009, IAEA governors including Russia and China rebuked Iran for building a uranium enrichment plant in secret. Iran rejected that vote as "intimidation."

Click here for full Jpost coverage of the Iranian threat

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