Iran in violation of nuke treaty, U.S. official says

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

VIENNA, Austria -- The United States accused Iran on Tuesday of violating the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty but said Tehran had "a last chance" to prove it wasn't running a covert weapons program.

Backed by key allies, chief U.S. delegate Kenneth Brill took Iran to task on the basis of a report outlining discrepancies between its past statements on its nuclear program and findings by the International Atomic Energy Agency. The report, by IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei, lists the discovery of weapons-grade enriched uranium and other evidence that critics say point to a weapons program.

"The United States believes the facts already established would fully justify an immediate finding of noncompliance by Iran," Brill said at a meeting of the agency's board. Still, he said, the Americans were ready to give "Iran a last chance to drop its evasions" before pushing for punitive action.

The United States accuses Iran of working on a secret nuclear weapons program. Tentative plans to come down hard on Iran at the board meeting were dropped last week after the Bush administration decided it wouldn't find enough support at the conference.

The U.S. delegation had been pushing for a resolution finding Iran in noncompliance -- a conclusion that would have brought the matter before the Security Council, which in turn could have called for sanctions.

A confidential U.S.-backed draft resolution submitted by France, Germany and Britain and obtained by The Associated Press urged Iran to "provide accelerated cooperation" with agency efforts to clear up questions over Tehran's nuclear program.

It also said Iran should "ensure there are no further failures," in reporting obligations and "suspend all further uranium enrichment-related activities, including the further introduction of nuclear material" into a facility where IAEA inspectors found traces of weapons-grade enriched uranium.

Chief Iranian delegate Ali Akbar Salehi said Iran could not meet that demand, saying activities at the facility, at Natanz, were already controlled by the IAEA. He described other disagreements over the text as "minor."

While setting an October timetable, the draft threatened no consequences. Diplomats at the meeting said that if the draft was approved without substantial changes, Security Council involvement appeared more likely if the next board meeting in November found the Iranians not cooperating.

Brill accused Iran of "stalling and stonewalling" on the true aims of its nuclear activities, and Washington's allies expressed support of the U.S. position.

"The nature of Iran's nuclear program, coupled with its evasiveness, only makes sense in the context of nuclear weapons ambitions," said chief Canadian delegate Ingrid Hall.

"We are forced to conclude that Iran is in noncompliance," she said.

The European Union said Iran's failure to honor its IAEA commitments of full openness was a matter of "grave concern."

Iran has suggested it may sign a protocol opening its nuclear programs to full and unfettered inspections by the IAEA. But "the additional protocol very well depends on the outcome of the board," said Salehi, warning that his country would have to rethink its position if "things are totally against" Iran.

The IAEA report said traces of highly enriched, weapons-grade uranium were found at the Natanz plant, about 300 miles south of Tehran. The report also noted tests by Iran that experts say make little sense unless the country was pursuing nuclear weapons.

Tehran insists its nuclear programs are for generating electricity and says its equipment was "contaminated" with enriched uranium by a previous owner.

Asked what he expects from the resolution, ElBaradei said he hoped "the board calls on Iran to accelerate its cooperation ... and to make sure that in the next few weeks we should be able to clarify all the important issues."

ElBaradei pressed the Iranians for a complete list of all imported equipment and components they contend were contaminated as well as their countries of origin, the dates they were acquired and where they have been used or stored since.


On the Net:

IAEA, http://www.iaea.org/worldatom

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