Shalom: UN unlikely to tackle Iran nukes

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is unlikely to transfer the Iranian nuclear issue to the United Nations Security Council at its board meeting this week, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom told the cabinet Sunday. Shalom's assessment came after Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said that Iran is today the main threat to Israel, and that its attempt to develop nuclear capability was "close to a point of no return." Mofaz said that from Israel's point of view it was "vital" that the issue be referred to the Security Council for sanctions. Shalom, however, said this was unlikely to take place at the November 24 IAEA board meeting, as the US, Russia and the EU3 - France, Britain and Germany - were still looking for a possible compromise that would keep Iran from developing nuclear arms while at the same time forestalling the need to take drastic diplomatic measures. Under a plan being considered, and which the US has now surprisingly shown an interest in, Iran would only be allowed to enrich uranium - a process that has weapons applicability - in Russia, and not in Iran. The idea behind this is that if the enrichment process were to take place abroad, Iran would be unable to develop nuclear arms. Shalom told the cabinet that despite these attempts to look for a compromise, Israel was warning at every possible opportunity that Iran was "gaining valuable time needed to complete its nuclear program" by "foot dragging" and taking advantage of the international community's desire to find a compromise. In Teheran, Iran's parliament approved a bill Sunday requiring the government to block international inspections of its nuclear facilities if the nation is referred to the Security Council for possible sanctions. The bill was approved by 183 of the 197 lawmakers present at the session, which was broadcast live on state-run radio. When the bill becomes law, as is expected, it will strengthen the government's hand in resisting international pressure to abandon uranium enrichment. The bill will now go to the Guardian Council, a hard-line constitutional watchdog, for ratification. The council is expected to approve the measure. "If Iran's nuclear file is referred or reported to the UN Security Council, the government will be required to cancel all voluntary measures it has taken and implement all scientific, research and executive programs to enable the rights of the nation under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty," lawmaker Kazem Jalali quoted the bill as saying. Canceling voluntary measures means Iran would stop allowing in-depth inspections of its nuclear facilities by the International Atomic Energy Agency and would resume uranium enrichment. "Through this bill, we are declaring to Europe that referring Iran to the UN Security Council means Europeans are pushing the region towards a crisis," Jalali told the chamber before the vote. "If it happens, it will impose a heavy cost on the world, the region and European countries themselves," he said. Vice President Gholamreza Aghazadeh, who is also the head of Iran's nuclear program, said the vote carried a message for both Europe and the IAEA that Iran won't give up its legitimate rights to develop a nuclear fuel cycle. On Friday, the IAEA - in a confidential report - said Iran obtained detailed instructions on how to enrich uranium from the black market network run by Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan. The report also said Iran was not giving inspectors access to a sensitive site that could be used to store equipment indicating whether the military was running a secret nuclear program. The 35-member IAEA board of governors is to convene in Vienna on Thursday. AP contributed to this report.