Nonaligned nations support Iran's uranium enrichment

bloc warns "attack or threat of attack against peaceful nuclear facilities is grave violation of int'l law."

iranian nuclear 298 ap (photo credit: AP [file])
iranian nuclear 298 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
Western countries pushed Tuesday for broad support on the need for Iran to freeze uranium enrichment, but nonaligned countries backed Teheran, saying all countries have the right to pursue a nuclear program for civilian use. A statement drawn up by the 16-nation nonaligned bloc at the board meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency "reaffirmed the basic and inalienable right" of all countries to develop, produce and use atomic energy "for peaceful purposes, without any discrimination and in conformity with their respective legal obligations." The statement - made available to The Associated Press ahead of delivery when Iran comes up as an agenda item later in the week - was mostly a repetition of a communique issued last month at a meeting in Malaysia of the nonaligned bloc's foreign ministers. Iran says it has a right to enrich uranium for purposes of generating electricity under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The United States and its allies assert the claim is a cover for attempts to develop a weapons program using highly enriched uranium in the core of nuclear warheads. While the focus now is on negotiations with Iran - including new-found American willingness to join in multinational talks if Teheran agrees to freeze enrichment - the Bush administration has refused to unequivocally rule out military action should Tehran remain defiant. The statement from the nonaligned bloc warned that "any attack or threat of attack against peaceful nuclear facilities .... constitutes a grave violation of international law." The US and its allies were focusing on key nations with clout among nonaligned countries such as Brazil, India and Argentina, urging them to put pressure on Iran in individual statements to accept an offer for talks on its nuclear program, diplomats said. One diplomat familiar with the consultations among the nonaligned countries said that supporters of Teheran's stance engaged in a "shouting match" Monday with those leaning toward the Western line. The Western push suffered a setback Monday with revelations that China and Russia were not prepared to join America and its European allies in a unified message insisting that Tehran halt enrichment. Their reluctance reflected lingering differences along East-West lines among the six world powers that just two weeks ago appeared to be in agreement about how to engage Iran over enrichment and to persuade it to give up technology that could be used to make nuclear arms. Resistance by Russia and China to tough UN action contributed to Washington's decision last month to reverse decades of policy and agree to join in multinational talks with Iran - if Teheran accepts a package of rewards, freezes enrichment during the talks and places a long-term moratorium on such activity. Other diplomats spoke of more potential divisions. China, Russia and possibly Germany might push to allow Iran some tightly controlled and small-scale enrichment rather than see talks founder, they said. Russia and China also might balk at enforcing selective U.N. sanctions on Iranian officials and activities. Long-term, verifiable suspension of Iranian enrichment is a "red line" for the United States and its key Western allies, one diplomat said. When asked Monday if Iran would suspend enrichment for the sake of negotiations, spokesman Gholam Hossein Elham repeated the government line that enrichment is Iran's "obvious right."