Nuclear Conference Struggling to Overcome Iranian Objections

Iran on Thursday refused to accept a compromise meant to overcome its objections to language setting the agenda at a conference reviewing the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. This left the meeting — meant to tighten the pact — looking for ways out of the impasse.

At issue is Iran's refusal to accept a phrase calling for the "need for full compliance with" the treaty. That position has delayed adoption of the agenda since the conference opened Monday.

"The outcome of the consultation is that the position of the state parties ... remains the same," conference chairman Yukiya Amano told delegates before adjourning an afternoon session until Friday, only minutes after it reconvened.

He said the postponement would allow him to "continue with my informal consultations" on finding a solution to the impasse.

The postponement — the second since the conference began on Monday — led to growing pessimism about how much the meeting could accomplish before its scheduled end May 11.

Iran maintains that its nuclear activities — including the program to enrich uranium that has led to U.N. sanctions — comply with the treaty. Tehran's latest position thus has puzzled even representatives of nonaligned nations that accept its argument that it wants to enrich not to make the fissile core of nuclear weapons but to generate atomic energy.

Still, its objections to the language suggested worry on the part of the Islamic republic that the emphasis on compliance in the agenda text could be used against it in later substantive discussions.

A diplomat following the nuclear conference said Iran's opposition to the text reflected its concern about being pressured on its enrichment program. He said Iran's assertiveness also could suggest that it was seeing signs of compromise from the West on its refusal to freeze enrichment totally.

Comments by Iranian chief delegate Ali Ashgar Soltanieh on Tuesday appeared to support the view that Tehran was seeking to blunt any attempts to be targeted through the contentious phrasing. Soltanieh told The Associated Press his country was ready to drop its objections if the statement on compliance was expanded to specify that it also applied to disarmament by nations with nuclear weapons.

Non-Iranian delegates to the conference told the AP that most nations attending were prepared to accept an attachment to the agenda adding that stipulation. France — one of the five nuclear weapons states that has ratified the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty — was reluctant, however, said one of the delegates.

While the weapons states lean toward using the treaty as a way to prevent non-weapons states from acquiring nuclear arms, nonaligned and some European nations want to see more emphasis on disarmament by the United States and other countries possessing such weapons.

Cuba, which holds the influential chairmanship of the nonaligned group at the meeting, was prepared to back any Iranian demand that the agenda be reworded, said one of the diplomats. Another said Syria and Venezuela — like Cuba, at odds with the United States — were also backing Tehran.

Any rewording of the agenda itself would likely be opposed by the United States and its allies, opening a new ideological fissure at the meeting and miring it even deeper in procedural wrangling.

Several of the diplomats said much depended on whether U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with her Iranian counterpart at Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, and if so, on the tone and substance of their conversation. The two are attending an Iraq conference at the resort town.

Amano had postponed a planned Thursday morning session to allow time for more consultations on how to overcome the deadlock of the language.

The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty calls on nations to pledge not to pursue nuclear weapons in exchange for a commitment by five nuclear powers — the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China — to move toward nuclear disarmament. India and Pakistan, known nuclear weapons states, remain outside the treaty, as does Israel, which is considered to have such arms but has not acknowledged it.

Officials from some 130 of the treaty's 189 signatory countries are attending the conference, excluding North Korea.