VIENNA, Austria – The United States suggested on Tuesday that Iran was violating the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (search), and urged other nations at a U.N. atomic energy agency meeting to join in pressing Tehran to prove it's not running a covert weapons program.
In a closely watched address, chief U.S. delegate Kenneth Brill focused on a report outlining discrepancies between past Iranian statements on the nature of Tehran's nuclear program (search) and findings by the International Atomic Energy Agency. The report, by IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei, mentions traces of weapons-grade enriched uranium and other evidence that critics say point to a weapons program.
"The United States believes the facts already established would fully justify an immediate finding of noncompliance by Iran," Brill said at a meeting of the agency's board. Still, he said, the Americans were ready to give Iran "a last chance to drop its evasions" before pushing for Security Council (search) involvement.
In an apparent victory for Iran, the Bush administration decided last week not to ask the Vienna meeting to endorse a resolution finding Iran in noncompliance of IAEA obligations -- a conclusion that would have brought the matter before the U.N. Security Council.
Iran has suggested it may sign a protocol opening its nuclear programs to full and unfettered IAEA inspections. But that depended 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. "We'll wait to see what the outcome is, but we have kept all of our options open."
Asked what he expects from the resolution, ElBaradei said he hoped "the board calls on Iran to accelerate its cooperation ... and to make sure that in the next few weeks, we should be able to clarify all the important issues that are outstanding."
He said he hoped Iran was serious about signing the additional protocol, adding he was encouraged by Iran's pledge to the board that it would in the interim act as if it were already in force.
The United States accuses Iran of working on a secret nuclear weapons program. ElBaradei's 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.
Brill, the U.S. ambassador to the IAEA, accused Iran of "stalling and stonewalling" on the true aims of its nuclear activities.
"The more the agency has looked underneath the surface of Iran's program, the less the explanations offered have hung together in a plausible way," he said.
Opening the conference of the 35-nation board, ElBaradei said that although Iran has shown increased cooperation, his experts still didn't have enough information to determine the nature of Tehran'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.
Diplomats said Canada and Britain were sounding out other board member nations on a resolution that would call on Iran to answer questions raised in the report and provide full disclosure of its programs.
It also could set a deadline for Tehran to comply, said the diplomats on condition of anonymity.
In Washington, 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."
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 the 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.