Published September 10, 2003
VIENNA, Austria – A U.N. atomic energy agency meeting was moving Wednesday toward backing a U.S.-backed measure that would pressure Iran to prove by October that it is not trying to build nuclear weapons, the head of the agency said.
Tehran warned such a demand, backed by the United States and key allies, could aggravate nuclear tensions.
"I think there is broad agreement that the board would like to see a deadline," said Mohamed ElBaradei (search), director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (search), as he emerged from the meeting. He added he personally favored "an immediate disclosure of all nuclear activities" on the part of Iran.
"It shouldn't take much time for Iran to come forward with all the information we need," ElBaradei said.
A U.S.-backed draft resolution — which was introduced Tuesday and is likely to undergo modifications before any approval — does not spell out what consequences Iran would face if the October deadline is not met.
Diplomats at the board of governors' meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency said that Tehran might find itself answering to the U.N. Security Council if the board approves the October deadline and the next board meeting ruled that Iran ignored IAEA demands.
Iran warned against any deadline.
"You cannot impose a deadline on a sovereign country," said Iranian chief delegate Ali Akbar Salehi (search). "I caution all those countries who put deadlines to be more prudent in their suggestions."
He was alluding to an additional IAEA protocol throwing open Tehran's nuclear program for unfettered inspections. Iran says it will only sign if it is not unduly pressured.
As the meeting adjourned until Thursday for back-room consultations, a Western diplomat said 15 nations had signed on as sponsors or co-sponsors of the U.S. draft — close to half of the 35-nation board. The Russians, whose support was important politically, were still being lobbied, said the diplomat.
Other board member nations also were expected to vote for the draft without formally signing on to it.
America says Iran has violated provisions of the treaty banning the spread of nuclear weapons. Chief U.S. delegate Kenneth Brill called Iran to task on the basis of a report outlining discrepancies between its past statements on its nuclear program and IAEA findings.
The report, by ElBaradei, lists the discovery 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 told the board Tuesday. Still, he said, the Americans were ready to give "Iran a last chance to drop its evasions" before pushing for punitive action.
The United States, which accuses Iran of working on a secret nuclear weapons program, had been pushing for a resolution finding Iran in noncompliance — a conclusion that would have brought the matter before the Security Council, which in turn could have called for sanctions. But lack of support at the board meeting scuttled that plan.
The draft resolution submitted by France, Germany and Britain and obtained by The Associated Press called on Iran to "provide accelerated cooperation" with agency efforts to clear up Tehran's nuclear question marks.
It also urged Iran to "ensure there are no further failures," in reporting obligations and called on it to "suspend all further uranium enrichment-related activities, including the further introduction of nuclear material" into a facility where IAEA inspectors found traces of weapons-grade enriched uranium.
An IAEA report also noted tests by Iran 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.
Opening the conference, 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.