Iran's IAEA plan may be recipe for delay says EU

( Reuters ) - Iran's nuclear transparency deal with U.N. inspectors could be a recipe for delay and the lack of provision for suspending Tehran's uranium enrichment is unacceptable, European Union powers said on Wednesday.

They spoke at a meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency's governing board where tensions flared between Western powers on one side, and IAEA officials and developing nations on the other over the value of Iran's cooperation pledge.

On Tuesday, Non-Aligned Movement nations, which include Iran, rejected "interference" in Tehran's cooperation with the IAEA. A statement by the 27-nation European Union that declined to endorse the plan prompted IAEA Director Mohamed ElBaradei to walk out of the session.

The message on Wednesday by EU powers Germany, France and Britain, among six world powers who have sponsored two sets of U.N. sanctions against Iran, was more negative.

"We are ... concerned by the sequential nature of the work plan as it may possibly be used to delay the clarification of the outstanding questions," said German Ambassador Klaus Peter Gottwald, speaking on behalf of the trio.

"We would have preferred an approach providing for parallel efforts. If Iran evades or delays the clarification..., the work plan will be a failure," Gottwald told the 35-nation gathering.

The August 21 "work plan" commits Iran to answer five-year-old IAEA questions one by one over a rough timeline of a few months, while leaving untouched Tehran's expanding efforts to enrich uranium, a process that could yield atomic bombs.

Western leaders believe the plan buys time for Iran to achieve "industrial" enrichment capacity without facing tougher sanctions, which Russia and China are blocking as long as the cooperation pact moves forward.

The West fears Iran wants to make nuclear bombs while Tehran insists its programme is aimed solely at electricity production.

Gottwald said a fresh report by ElBaradei left no doubt Iran was trying to crank up enrichment in its underground Natanz plant. "This is not acceptable and needs to be considered in the (U.N.) Security Council...," Gottwald said.

EU powers appreciated inspector efforts to life the veil of secrecy on Iran's nuclear history, he said.

"(But) we do not only need clarity about Iran's nuclear past. We have to have full trust that Iran refrains now and in the future from any military nuclear activities."

Gottwald said the EU remained open to negotiations on trade benefits for Iran if it shelved enrichment activity first. Iran has rejected that precondition as undermining its sovereignty.

The "EU-3" looked to ElBaradei rendering judgment by the next IAEA board meeting in November "at the latest" whether Iran was coming clean on research to develop advanced centrifuges machines for enrichment, he said.

A senior diplomat close to the IAEA said the EU line was "short-sighted, overly hardline and not helpful. It's harmful for the IAEA as an institution."

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