VIENNA (AP) â€” The chief UN nuclear inspector on Monday urged an end to confrontation over Iran’s atomic programme, and suggested talks over differences should take precedence over US and European threats to send Tehran to the UN Security Council.
But the Western push for referral appeared back on track.
Diplomats said US and European officials at a key meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had resumed work on a draft resolution calling for Security Council involvement, to be voted on later this week by the agency’s 35-nation governing board.
Drafting the text was put on hold over the last few days, first to give Iran a chance to deflect the Security Council threat by offering sufficient concessions, and if that failed to happen, to try and get council members Russia and China on board.
European Union diplomats said both of those countries remained opposed to referral, despite strong lobbying by the Americans and Europeans. But they told the Associated Press that, at this point, it appeared likely that the Europeans, backed by the United States and other allies, would force the issue to a vote even at the risk of its defeat.
â€œThe difficulty remains with Russia and China and some of the Third World countries,â€ said one of the diplomats, demanding anonymity as a condition of discussing the sensitive state of behind-the-scenes manoeuvring on Iran with the Associated Press.
Outside the conference, IAEA head Mohammed Baradei expressed relief over North Korea’s offer to shelve nuclear weapons ambitions, saying he hoped to have his inspectors in that country soon to supervise its return to the nonproliferation fold.
He appeared exasperated, however, at the standoff over Iran.
â€œI think we regrettably … are going though a period of confrontations and political brinkmanship,â€ he said, indirectly chiding both Tehran’s nuclear intransigence and the Western push for Security Council referral.
Foreign ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi warned against such action. He said Iran was not yet contemplating uranium enrichment â€” which can produce either fuel or nuclear weapons grade material â€” but may change its mind â€œif the IAEA meeting on Monday leads to radical results.â€ Diplomats accredited to the IAEA, meanwhile, suggested Iran may have another card up its sleeve.
The diplomats told the Associated Press that Tehran may announce that it is ready to grant agency experts access to high-ranking military officials or military sites.
The agency has been trying to determine if gaps in Iranian reporting on more than 18 years of clandestine nuclear activity first revealed three years ago are attempts to cover up military involvement in what Iran insists is a purely civilian programme meant only to generate power.
Establishing such involvement would bolster arguments by the United States and its allies that Iran’s programme is a cover for trying to make nuclear arms.
The IAEA has been rebuffed in attempts to revisit Parchin, the site of alleged experiments linked to nuclear weapons, and to inspect Lavizan-Shian, the possible site for equipment that can be used both for peaceful and nuclear weapons-related purposes. Additionally, the agency has been denied permission to interview senior officials linked to the military.
With the board already divided, any new concessions by Iran could increase the number of countries opposed and leave the Europeans and the Americans in the minority, according to the diplomats. They, like the European official, demanded anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
Baradei on Monday again urged Iran to meet his agency’s requests.
â€œI’ve made it very clear … that we need … access to individuals, [and] making documents available,â€ he said.
Washington and the EU started to lobby jointly for Security Council referral last month, after Iran effectively walked away from talks with Germany, Britain and France on reducing international concerns about Iran’s nuclear programme, and resumed uranium conversion, a precursor to uranium enrichment.