Iran Weighing Compromise at Nuclear Conference in Vienna

A 130-nation nuclear meeting stalled for its sixth straight day Monday after Iran refused to commit itself to a compromise meant to break a deadlock caused by Tehran's opposition to language of the gathering's agenda.

Diplomats at the conference — meant to work on strengthening the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty — told The Associated Press that the decision by the chairman of the meeting to skirt the issue at least until Tuesday came after Iran asked for an extra day of consultations with its capital.

But the diplomats, who demanded anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss confidential issues, suggested that Iran's request was nothing more than a delaying tactic, noting it had already had three days since the meeting was adjourned on Friday to come up with a decision.

"The Iranians seem chiefly interested in seeing this meeting fail," said one of the delegates, suggesting Tehran's main focus was preventing any debate on its defiance of a U.N. Security Council demand that it stop all aspects of its uranium enrichment program.

Another delegate, from a nonaligned country — a group that normally backs Iran on nuclear issues — said that even among nonaligned nations "the mood was bad" because of Tehran's unyielding stance.

In acknowledging that "more time is needed to address this issue again," the chairman, Yukiya Amano of Japan, expressed "full understanding of the frustration of the delegations" with the lack of even minimum progress on substantive issues because of bickering over the agenda.

He designated a scheduled afternoon session to deal with agreeing on a time and place for the next NPT preparatory conference — a move delegates said was meant to avoid further bickering over the agenda and give Tehran the extra time it had requested.

The meeting, originally planned to end May 11, adjourned on Friday to give the Iranian delegation time to decide on whether to accept a South African compromise proposal. That suggestion would have the conference decide whether to accept an appended statement specifying that "all provisions" of the treaty must be fully observed — including the need for the United States and other nuclear weapons states to disarm.

With meetings like this one usually making decisions by consensus, Iran's opposition would be enough to doom the South African proposal. That, in turn, could lead to a decision to end the conference.

Or it could force a highly irregular vote, further hardening the fronts and possibly dooming future yearly nonproliferation meetings leading up to the 2010 treaty Review Conference because of insistence by many delegations that consensus decisions are key.

Iran argues it is entitled to enrich under the treaty provision giving all pact members the right to develop peaceful programs. But suspicions sparked by nearly two decades of clandestine nuclear activities, including questionable black market acquisitions of equipment and blueprints that appear linked to weapons plans, have led the U.N. Security Council to impose sanctions because of Tehran's refusal to mothball its enrichment program — which can generate both energy and produce the fissile core of nuclear warheads.

Diplomats last week told the AP that Tehran had recently set up more centrifuges at its underground uranium enrichment plant at Natanz, bringing the number of machines ready to spin uranium gas into enriched form to more than 1,600.

An International Atomic Energy Agency document obtained last month said the Islamic regime was running more than 1,300 centrifuge machines to enrich uranium at Natanz.

Its ultimate goal is to have 50,000 centrifuges. That would be enough to supply fuel for what Tehran says is a planned network of atomic reactors to generate electricity. Or it could produce material for a full-scale nuclear weapons program.

The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty calls on nations to pledge not to pursue nuclear weapons in exchange for a commitment by five nuclear powers — the U.S., 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.