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Iran on Thursday shrugged off the latest punitive UN action - suspension of nearly two dozen nuclear aid programs - and showed no signs it was cowed by the possibility of even tougher penalties in the form of new Security Council sanctions.
Thursday's decision by the 35 board nations of the International Atomic Energy Agency to deprive Teheran of 22 technical aid projects was symbolically important. Only North Korea and Saddam Hussein's Iraq had been subject to such action previously.
IAEA freezes nuclear aid programs to Iran
Still, none of the programs directly applied to the Islamic republic's developing uranium enrichment program - which Teheran refuses to mothball despite nearly three months of Security Council sanctions and the possibility that those punitive measures may be tightened.
Ali Ashgar Soltanieh, Iran's chief delegate to the IAEA, said as much after the board agreed by consensus to suspend the programs.
"None of these projects are related to enrichment," he said of the suspensions. "The enrichment program will continue as planned."
IAEA technical aid projects are meant to bolster the peaceful use of nuclear energy in medicine, agriculture, waste management, management training or power generation. The technical aid is provided to dozens of countries, most of them developing nations - but none suspected of possibly trying to develop nuclear weapons, like Iran.
Enrichment, in contrast, has both peaceful and military applications.
Teheran's secretive nuclear ways - it hid sensitive activities from the world for nearly two decades until revelations four years ago of a covert enrichment project - led the Security Council to impose sanctions December 23 because of fears its nuclear activities were a cover for a weapons program.
Still, there is little evidence the sanctions are working beyond generating some domestic criticism of hardline Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who last month compared Iran's enrichment program to an unstoppable train without brakes. And the sanctions themselves are less than their chief proponent, Washington, would like.
Instead of choking off Iran economically and politically, they are relatively mild, only committing all UN member countries to stop supplying Iran with materials and technology that could contribute to its nuclear and missile programs and to freeze assets of 10 key Iranian companies and 12 individuals related to those programs.
Russian and Chinese opposition to tougher action blunted Washington's sanctions drive - and there was evidence of the same in attempts to keep Security Council unity on new sanctions meant to punish Iran for ignoring last month's deadline on suspending enrichment.
Council diplomats on Wednesday said the five permanent Council members were again struggling, with US, Britain and France pushing for tougher measures than Russia and China will accept. The impasse led to Security Council ambassadors sending the problem back to high level discussions among their capitals.
Ahead of the IAEA decision on technical aid in Vienna, Soltanieh accused the United States and Israel of threatening military attacks on its nuclear facilities and said Security Council sanctions against his country were illegal.
Washington in turn criticized Teheran for ignoring Security Council demands to freeze uranium enrichment and said Iranian "intransigence" in answering questions about its nuclear program raises the level of concern that it might be seeking to make nuclear arms.
Those comments, inside and on the sidelines of the meeting, came as part of a review of a report by IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei that confirmed Iran had defied a Security Council deadline on enrichment last month.
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