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Archive for Saturday, September 18, 2004

U.N. group OKs draft for Iran’s uranium program

United States still seeks stronger language to prevent use of nuclear technology

September 18, 2004

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— The United States and most other nations at a meeting of the U.N. atomic watchdog agency agreed Friday on a resolution meant to curb Iran's access to technology that could be used for nuclear weapons, and indirectly set a deadline for Tehran to meet their demands.

But the text fell short of Washington's goal of an explicit deadline and an automatic referral to the U.N. Security Council if Iran defies the terms set by the International Atomic Energy Agency's Board of Governors.

Nevertheless, members of the so-called nonaligned movement, including China and Pakistan, opposed parts of the text, and moved to force a rare showdown vote today -- unprecedented in the more than two years that the agency has debated what to do about Iran's nuclear dossier. The nuclear agency's 35-nation board has passed previous Iran resolutions by consensus.

With the majority of board members favoring the version agreed on by the United States, the European Union, Canada and Australia, the challenges had little chance of being approved.

Still, the likelihood of a vote revealed deep divisions between the West and the nonaligned group over the issue of uranium enrichment -- a technology that can be used both to generate electricity and to make nuclear weapons.

Washington and Europe want Iran to freeze all enrichment and related activities, while the nonaligned group wants any such demand excised, saying all nations should have the right to it as long as it is used for peaceful purposes.

While the Americans assert Iran is trying to make nuclear weapons, Tehran insists its enrichment plans are meant only to generate power.

Even with the Western resolution likely to be accepted in full, the challenges left open the possibility of new confrontation with the United States when the meeting reconvenes in November.

While demanding that Iran suspend all uranium enrichment activities, the resolution also recognizes the right of countries to the peaceful use of nuclear energy -- precisely the phrase that left Iran room to maneuver.

IAEA director general Mohamed ElBaradei said an Iranian decision to at least maintain its present, limited suspension freeze would "be a step in the right direction." But he said he preferred full suspension.

The text said the board will decide at the November meeting "whether or not further steps are required." Diplomats familiar with the draft defined that phrase as shorthand for possible referral to the U.N. Security Council if Iran defies the conditions set in the resolution.

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