Iran: sanctions talk may hit cooperation with IAEA

VIENNA (Reuters) - Iran on Friday accused Western nations seeking harsher U.N. sanctions against it of adding “fuel to the flame” and said this could halt its steps to clarify nuclear activity to U.N. inspectors.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Mohamed ElBaradei is on his way to a board of governors meeting in Vienna November 22, 2007. The U.N. nuclear watchdog chief is set to urge full backing for an Iran transparency plan at an agency governors meeting on Thursday after Western powers said Tehran must do more to allay fears about its atomic agenda. REUTERS/Herwig Prammer

The head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog said on Thursday that Iran was making good progress towards resolving questions by the end of the year -- only for Western powers to say Tehran had not done enough to win trust in its atomic ambitions and the United Nations should consider biting sanctions.

The West fears Iran is secretly trying to build atom bombs. Iran says it wants only electricity from uranium enrichment, and a November 15 International Atomic Energy Agency report showed it never set out to “weaponise” enrichment -- though the agency says it does not know the scope of Iran’s current activity.

In remarks to an IAEA board of governors meeting this week, Iran said Western nations, especially France, Britain and Australia, had “put fuel to increase the flame” despite “a great breakthrough” in Iranian transparency with inspectors.

Ambassador Ali Asghar Soltanieh said recent Iranian explanations of undeclared efforts to obtain centrifuge enrichment technology meant “the most important issues related to our past activities is concluded and closed”.

“Therefore allegations about Iran’s clandestine and non-peaceful activities are now proved to be baseless,” he said.

“Therefore any gesture or resolution in the U.N. Security Council would have negative impact on our full collaboration and cooperation with the agency,” he told reporters.


However, IAEA Director Mohamed ElBaradei told the 35-nation gathering on Thursday that Iran remained some way from establishing confidence in its nuclear aspirations.

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Iran’s clarifications on centrifuge research were consistent with IAEA intelligence but had yet to be checked for completeness so the issue was not yet resolved, he said.

Moreover, he said the IAEA remained in the dark about the scope of Iran’s current activity as it was blocking wide-ranging snap inspections to verify the absence of parallel, covert activity devoted to bomb-orientated enrichment.

Iran also continued to defy Security Council demands to suspend enrichment work altogether to defuse mistrust, he said.

“Procrastination is not an option,” EU-3 powers Britain, France and Germany told IAEA governors on Thursday.

They and the United States said Iran had failed a litmus test to show full disclosure and suspend enrichment by mid-November to gain a reprieve from further sanctions.

These are likely to be considered by six world powers next month if a pending report on EU talks with Iran confirms, as anticipated, that it remains adamant against halting enrichment.

An official summary issued after Friday’s end of the two-day debate by the 35-nation IAEA board said some members had praised Iran’s new cooperation while others said it could do much more.

Diplomats said the great majority urged Iran to allow broader inspections and shelve enrichment, but Russia and China did not join the Western camp in mentioning further Security Council action.

This raised doubt whether either would drop their entrenched resistance to tougher trade sanctions, especially as Russia called Iran’s cooperation “constructive”, the diplomat said.

ElBaradei said he hoped to settle remaining questions about Iranian nuclear work by the end of the year.

The two key issues involve traces of highly enriched -- or bomb-grade -- uranium that inspectors found at research sites, and intelligence on links between uranium processing, explosives tests and a missile warhead design.

Editing by Andrew Roche