VIENNA – The 35-nation board of the U.N. nuclear agency overwhelmingly rebuked Iran on Thursday for refusing to heed demands that it take actions to diminish fears that it might be seeking atomic arms, a move hailed by the United States as demonstrating international pressure on Tehran to compromise.
Only one country — Cuba — voted against a resolution brought before the International Atomic Energy Agency board and drawn up by the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany. Ecuador, Tunisia and Egypt abstained, while the 31 other nations supported the resolution.
Iran denies any interest in nuclear arms. But it has refused to comply with U.N. and IAEA demands to stop activities that could be used to make such weapons and to allow a probe of suspicions it worked on an arms program.
Robert Wood, the chief U.S delegate to the IAEA, said he hoped he board's near-solid backing for the resolution would serve as a wake-up call for the Islamic Republic to heed international demands to replace its words with actions that prove it has no interest in nuclear weapons.
"What we are hoping is that this resolution will keep ... diplomatic pressure up and convince Iran that it has really no other option than to comply with its international obligations," he told reporters.
But the resolution has its limitations, despite the broad support it received.
As 11 others before it, the document cannot be enforced by the IAEA board, and as such, may be shrugged off by Tehran, which already is ignoring U.N. Security Council sanctions and other increasingly harsh international penalties meant to force it to compromise.
Iran appeared unimpressed Thursday. The country's chief IAEA delegate, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, said pressure on his country came from "a few Western countries, especially the United States (which) are trying to change the IAEA into a mere U.N watchdog" trying to penetrate countries' national security.
Because it is largely symbolic, the document is also unlikely to persuade Israel that diplomacy is working. Israel views a nuclear-armed Iran as a mortal threat, citing Iran's persistent calls for the destruction of the Jewish state, its development of missiles capable of striking Israel, and Iranian support for Arab militant groups.
Israeli government leaders have become increasingly strident in suggesting that only military action will stop Iran from getting nuclear arms. For the six powers sponsoring the resolution, the onus at the Vienna meeting was thus to prove that unified international diplomatic pressure could still be exerted on the Islamic Republic — even if it was largely symbolic.
Israeli chief delegate Ehud Azoulay questioned whether the resolution would have its intended effect, telling the board that "Iran's race towards the nuclear bomb has not been slowed down by well-meaning resolutions."
Tehran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only. But it refuses foreign offers of reactor fuel if it stops making its own through uranium enrichment. Enriching uranium is a process that worries the international community because it could be used to arm nuclear warheads too.
The IAEA also suspects that Iran has worked secretly on nuclear arms — allegations Iran dismisses as based on fabricated U.S. and Israeli intelligence.
The six powers behind the resolution included Russia and China — which often speak out against harsh punishment for Iran — as well as the United States, Britain, France and Germany, and Western diplomats described the backing of Moscow and Beijing for the resolution as an example of unity.
In exchange, however, the four Western powers had to settle for compromise language in the text of the resolution, which was weaker overall than the last one in November.
While expressing "serious concern" over continued Iranian uranium enrichment in defiance of the U.N. Security Council, the six nations say they back the "inalienable right" of countries that have signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. That is a bow to arguments by Iran, an NPT signatory, that it has a right to enrich uranium.
The resolution "stresses" that the IAEA has not reported any nuclear material missing from Iran sites it is monitoring. Missing material could mean that Tehran is using it elsewhere for weapons purposes.
The language is also weaker than it could be because it only "notes" that the agency cannot conclude there is no hidden nuclear activity going on because of "lack of cooperation" by Iran on agency requests that it be given greater powers to monitor.
Western nations have for years chastised the Islamic Republic over fears about its nuclear intentions. But the tone of their statements Thursday was unusually harsh. That appeared to reflect concerns that continued lack of diplomatic progress in persuading Iran to compromise could give a greater platform for Israeli hawks.
Ahead of the vote on the resolution, Wood, the chief U.S. envoy, urged board members to send the message "that Iran's continued behavior is dangerous and unacceptable."
"This board must not allow Iran to continue its pattern of deception, deceit, and flagrant flouting of its international nuclear obligations while continuing its delaying tactics," he told the closed meeting in remarks made available to reporters.
The European Union asserted that the Islamic Republic was stalling the IAEA in its attempts to probe Tehran's nuclear activities. It also said Iran was failing to comply with U.N. Security Council demands that it stop activities that could lead to the manufacture of nuclear arms. An EU statement called such conduct "unacceptable."