Published September 09, 2003
VIENNA, Austria – The United States is asking the U.N. atomic agency on Tuesday to urge Iran (search) to deliver on claims that its nuclear programs are peaceful, while Tehran (search) is warning that too much pressure could aggravate tensions.
Iran has suggested it may sign a protocol opening its nuclear programs to unfettered inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (search). But that depends on the outcome of the meeting of the agency's board of governors, chief Iranian delegate Ali Akbar Salehi said.
"We wish there will be an agreement," Salehi said on Tuesday. "We'll wait to see what the outcome is, but we have kept all of our options open."
Reflecting intense behind-the-scenes negotiations over Iran, diplomats said the conference might adjourn for 24 hours to give delegates time to try to find a common position.
As the U.S. allies met to sway the board, Salehi lobbied for support for Iran's position in separate meetings Monday evening. Reflecting the differences over the issue, diplomats at the meeting said a decision, originally expected for Tuesday, could be dragged out, possibly until Thursday.
The United States accuses Iran of working on a secret nuclear weapons program. A recent confidential IAEA report to the board said traces of highly enriched, weapons-grade uranium were found at an Iranian nuclear facility.
The report also said Iran was conducting tests that experts say make little sense unless the country was pursuing nuclear weapons.
Tehran insists its nuclear programs are for generating electricity and says its equipment was "contaminated" with enriched uranium by a previous owner.
IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei said in opening remarks that Iran has been showing increased cooperation, but his experts still didn't have enough information to determine the nature of the country's nuclear activities.
"I would urge Iran in the coming weeks to show proactive and accelerated cooperation ... by providing the agency with a complete and accurate declaration of all its nuclear activities," ElBaradei said.
The Bush administration decided last week not to ask the Vienna meeting to endorse a resolution finding Iran in noncompliance of IAEA obligations -- which would have raised the possibility of U.N. sanctions.
But U.S. allies Canada and Britain were sounding out other board members on a resolution that would call on Iran to answer questions raised in the report and provide full disclosure of its programs, diplomats said on condition of anonymity. The resolution also could set a deadline for Tehran to comply, the diplomats said.
In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said most board members agreed that Iran needs to "take steps to cooperate fully and answer all questions. So we'll be working with other members of the board to try to get a resolution that makes that clear in the strongest possible terms."
Diplomats said it was conceivable that the United States would postpone a call to action until the next board meeting in November rather than accept a toothless resolution.
ElBaradei pressed the Iranians for a complete list of all imported equipment and components they contend were contaminated as well as their countries of origin, the dates they were acquired and where they have been used or stored since.
The nuclear agency also needs to know more about Iran's uranium conversion experiments and its testing of gas centrifuges to enrich uranium, he said.
ElBaradei toured Iran's nuclear facilities in February, including an incomplete plant in Natanz, about 300 miles south of Tehran. Diplomats said he was taken aback by the advanced stage of a project using hundreds of centrifuges to enrich uranium.