UN nuclear watchdog to focus on Iran

European powers have prepared a resolution for next week's meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency that focuses on Iran's nuclear defiance, diplomats said Sunday. ( AP )

But a senior Iranian official warned against such action at the Vienna-based IAEA when the agency starts its 35-nation board meeting Monday. And diplomats said that traditional opposition by nonaligned IAEA board member nations could lead the Europeans to rethink their plans.

In any case, a Western decision on whether to lobby all 35 nations to back such a resolution would likely wait until after Monday's scheduled vote on sanctions in the U.N. Security Council, they told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity because the information was confidential.

The five permanent council members with veto power - the U.S., Russia, China, Britain and France - are all backing the new resolution, and they have more than the nine "yes" votes needed for approval in the 15-member council.

But four non-permanent council members have raised a variety of concerns - Libya, Indonesia, South Africa and Vietnam.

In Vienna, a critical IAEA resolution drafted by Britain, France and Germany would be supported by the majority of board members - including the United States, Canada, Australia, Japan and the EU.

But Iran's critics were concerned that staunch opposition by nonaligned nations that traditionally back Iran in its nuclear dispute with the West would doom chances of consensus and lead to a vote, said the diplomats. That, in turn, could produce divisive debate and further polarization.

Ali Ashgar Soltanieh, Iran's chief IAEA representative, dismissed any efforts to push for an IAEA resolution critical of his country as "ridiculous."

"Any gesture here in that direction will make all member states unhappy," he told the AP Sunday. "I don't think any nations will make such a historical mistake it will question their credibility."

Iran's suspicious nuclear past has been a key topic at IAEA board meetings for the past five years, after revelations that the Islamic Republic had carried out nearly two decades of secret atomic work, some of it potentially linked to weapons research.

The last IAEA resolution, more than two years ago, referred Tehran's nuclear file to the Security Council. The council in turn punished Iran's refusal to suspend uranium enrichment and fully open its nuclear activities to agency inspectors with two sets of sanctions.

Iran not only continues enrichment - which can produce both nuclear fuel and the fissile core of nuclear warheads - but has expanded its activities, saying it has a right to the technology for a civilian nuclear program. That has led to Monday's planned council vote.

Additionally fueling Western frustrations is Tehran's refusal to even discuss allegations that it tried to make nuclear weapons through interlinked projects enriching uranium, testing explosives and designing missiles and warheads suitable for a nuclear payload.

While a Feb. 22 IAEA report said a probe had made progress on other past nuclear activities, it said that Tehran had not responded properly to intelligence forwarded by the U.S. and its allies purportedly showing nuclear weapons technology being developed by Iran.

Iran has chosen to focus on the agency's assessment of progress on some topics to assert that the IAEA report vindicates its claims that its nuclear aims are peaceful. It says information on alleged weapons programs mentioned in the report and in a subsequent visual presentation to board members by agency experts is baseless and forged.

Any decision by Britain, France and Germany to push for a new resolution at the board meeting starting Monday would be significant, considering the last resolution dates back more than two years and set into motion the U.N. sanctions against Iran.

But one of the diplomats said that the language of any such document would be moderate rather than hard-edged in order to collect maximum support.

He said it would praise IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei for his efforts in probing Iran's nuclear past and not go beyond "urging" Iran to fully disclose its activities and comply with Security Council demands.

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