VIENNA, Austria – A key meeting of the U.N. atomic watchdog agency stalled Wednesday, reflecting disagreements between the United States and Europe over how firmly to deal with Iran (search) and its suspect nuclear program.
The U.S.-European rift surfaced Tuesday, the second day of a key meeting of the board of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (search), the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog agency.
The planned morning session Wednesday was canceled, and agency officials said as the day progressed that it was unlikely the meeting would reconvene before Thursday. The pause was meant to allow informal backdoor negotiations on a draft resolution among the 35 board member nations.
The latest draft resolution, obtained by The Associated Press and being circulated informally for reaction from other delegates, was nearly identical to one that France, Britain and Germany came up with Friday — a text that American officials said was not acceptable. It ignored suggestions made by the Americans designed to toughen up the text.
The American suggestions, also made available in full to the AP, demanded that Iran grant agency inspectors "complete, immediate and unrestricted access"; provide "full information" about past illegal nuclear activities; and suspend "immediately and fully" uranium enrichment and related activities.
The agency's meeting has become the main battleground between Iran and the United States, which wants to take Tehran before the U.N. Security Council for alleged violations of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (search).
Hossein Mousavian, the chief Iranian delegate to the meeting, downplayed the U.S.-European differences, suggesting the rift was more over style than substance.
"They have the same opinion, but the Americans are in a hurry for a harsh decision and the Europeans believe in dialogue," he told the AP.
The Americans asked that the draft include an Oct. 31 deadline. The EU text remained more vague on both demands and a time frame, asking only that IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei submit a comprehensive report before November for evaluation by the board.
ElBaradei shrugged off the idea of a deadline and repeated that his investigation has not clearly established whether Iran is trying to make nuclear arms — as Washington asserts.
"We haven't seen any concrete proof that there is a weapons program," he told reporters. "Can we say everything is peaceful? Obviously we are not at that stage."
Revelations of the U.S.-Europe rift were expected to prove embarrassing to the Americans, who have expressed confidence that they would be able to bring the Europeans close to their stance.
The Americans "introduced amendments that were beyond what the market would bear," said one senior western diplomat who follows the IAEA, commenting on what he suggested was European defiance. "The European draft is right now going to have support."
A diplomat representing one of the 25 EU countries said part of the problem was that the Americans came in with additional modifications after the European Union thought they were happy with the original draft written by France, Germany and Britain.
The draft resolution is likely still far from any final version being prepared for formal introduction to the board, and diplomats said that in the end it may well include some of the American suggestions.
But they said the tone of some of the U.S. demands — and delays in making them — meant that a final resolution on Iran would not come before close to the end of the week.