Nuclear deadline sets stage for showdon on Iran

VIENNA — Iran is almost certain not to heed a UN call for it to stop nuclear fuel work by next Saturday, setting the stage for a showdown on what the United States says is a secret Iranian drive to make atom bombs.
“New York is the key now,” a senior European diplomat told AFP, referring to a United Nations summit September 14-16 where hardline Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is expected to present new Iranian proposals to assure the international community that his country is not making nuclear weapons.

Iranian nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani said last week that Iran would not give up its right under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to make nuclear fuel.

He spoke in Vienna ahead of a September 3 deadline, set by the UN watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for Iran to stop work on making atomic power reactor fuel that could also be used to make weapons. IAEA chief Mohammad Al Baradei will be filing a report on that date to the IAEA’s 35-nation board of governors on Iranian compliance.

The resumption this month of uranium conversion fuel work, which Iran had broken off last November to start talks with the European Union on guaranteeing its nuclear programme is peaceful, has scuttled the negotiations and could lead to Iran being brought before the UN Security Council for possible sanctions when the IAEA board meets on September 19 in Vienna.

The United States had been pushing for an emergency board meeting soon after the report but that was opposed by Russia as well as non-aligned member states of the board, diplomats said.

Russia wants to give bilateral talks at the summit in New York a chance, mainly planned meetings of Ahmadinejad with Russian President Vladimir Putin as well as UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, according to diplomats.

Non-proliferaton analyst Gary Samore, an arms control expert under former US president Bill Clinton and now with London’s International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), said the Iranians are hoping to split the IAEA board with their proposals, which will call for countries beyond EU negotiators Britan, France and Germany to get involved in the talks.

The Iranians calculate that they have support from Russia, which is building Iran’s first nuclear power plant, from China, which is a major buyer of its oil and from states like Brazil, which want the principle of individual nations’ right to peaceful nuclear technology to be defended, Samore said.

But Samore said the EU negotiating trio was “standing strong” on this issue.

The United States, Europe and allies like Japan feel they have enough votes on the IAEA board to push referral to the Security Council through if Iran persists in nuclear fuel work, Samore said. French non-proliferation analyst Francois Heisbourg said Iran may be making a miscalculation as both Russia and China may be less willing to back it on this issue than Tehran thinks.

“Russia does not want to have another nuclear power in its region,” Heisbourg said.

He added that “the Chinese do not think that the collapse of the non-proliferation regime is good for them. Both North Korea and Iran having nuclear weapons would be too much.”

And Heisbourg said that countries like Brazil, which are currently enriching uranium for fuel, “are not interested in having that right diminished by Iran if people come to the conclusion that enrichment is dangerous.”

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