VIENNA, Austria – Western countries pushed Tuesday for broad support on the need for Iran to freeze uranium enrichment, but nonaligned countries backed Tehran, saying all countries have the right to pursue a nuclear program for civilian use.
A statement drawn up by the 16-nation nonaligned bloc at the board meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency "reaffirmed the basic and inalienable right" of all countries to develop, produce and use atomic energy "for peaceful purposes, without any discrimination and in conformity with their respective legal obligations."
The statement — made available to The Associated Press ahead of delivery when Iran comes up on the agenda later in the week — was mostly a repetition of a communique issued last month at a meeting in Malaysia of the nonaligned bloc's foreign ministers.
Iran says it has a right to enrich uranium for purposes of generating electricity under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The United States and its allies assert the claim is a cover for attempts to develop a weapons program using highly enriched uranium in the core of nuclear warheads.
While the focus now is on negotiations with Iran — including newfound U.S. willingness to join in multinational talks if Tehran agrees to freeze enrichment — the Bush administration has refused to unequivocally rule out military action should Tehran remain defiant.
The statement from the nonaligned bloc warned that "any attack or threat of attack against peaceful nuclear facilities ... constitutes a grave violation of international law."
The U.S. and its allies were focusing on key nations with clout among nonaligned countries such as Brazil, India and Argentina, urging them to put pressure on Iran in individual statements to accept an offer for talks on its nuclear program, diplomats said.
One diplomat familiar with the consultations among the nonaligned countries said that supporters of Tehran's stance engaged in a "shouting match" Monday with those leaning toward the Western line. The diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity because the consultations were confidential.
The Western push suffered a setback Monday with revelations that China and Russia were not prepared to join America and its European allies in a unified message insisting that Tehran halt enrichment.
Their reluctance reflected lingering differences along East-West lines among the six world powers that two weeks ago appeared to be in agreement about how to engage Iran over enrichment and to persuade it to give up technology that could be used to make nuclear arms.
Resistance by Russia and China to tough U.N. action contributed to Washington's decision last month to reverse decades of policy and agree to join in multinational talks with Iran — if Tehran accepts a package of rewards, freezes enrichment during the talks and places a long-term moratorium on such activity.
In a symbolic sign of support by Moscow, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Kislyak was among those with top EU foreign policy official Javier Solana when he delivered the incentives package to Tehran last week. Russia has said it is prepared to join any negotiations with Iran, and China has indicated it might also do so.
Still, other diplomats spoke of more potential divisions. China, Russia and possibly Germany might push to allow Iran some tightly controlled and small-scale enrichment rather than see talks founder, they said. Russia and China also might balk at enforcing selective U.N. sanctions on Iranian officials and activities.
Long-term, verifiable suspension of Iranian enrichment is a "red line" for the United States and its key Western allies, one diplomat said.
When asked Monday if Iran would suspend enrichment for the sake of negotiations, spokesman Gholam Hossein Elham repeated the government line that enrichment is Iran's "obvious right."
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki was to meet Wednesday in Madrid with his Spanish counterpart, Miguel Angel Moratinos, for talks on the nuclear standoff. A Spanish Foreign Ministry spokesman said Mottaki was coming in place of Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, who canceled a trip to Europe this week for health reasons.