June 4, 2008 / 4:45 PM / 11 years ago

Developing states back U.N. probe of Iran bomb claims

VIENNA (Reuters) - Developing nations joined the West on Wednesday in throwing their weight behind the U.N. nuclear watchdog’s attempt to get Iran to clarify intelligence alleging that it secretly researched ways of making atom bombs.

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks during a news conference at a U.N. crisis summit on rising food prices at the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in Rome June 3, 2008. REUTERS/Nikola Solic

It was a rare sign of convergence on the International Atomic Energy Agency’s 35-nation board of governors after an inspector report on Iran that was tougher than previous ones and a call by the IAEA chief for “full disclosure” by Tehran.

The May 26 report said Iran seemed to be withholding information needed to explain intelligence reports that it illicitly melded programs to process uranium, test high explosives and modify a missile cone in a way that would accommodate a nuclear warhead.

Iran has rejected the intelligence, which comes from about 10 nations, as forged or related solely to conventional military hardware, but not furnished evidence to bolster its denials.

It is accelerating uranium enrichment that it says will be only for electricity, not bombs, but is under U.N. sanctions for hiding the work in the past, continuing to curb IAEA inspections and refusing to halt enrichment in exchange for trade benefits.

In an IAEA governors’ debate, a bloc of developing nations to which Iran belongs endorsed the IAEA inquiry, although they have tended to see international pressure on Tehran to abandon enrichment, without hard proof of bombmaking, as a threat to their own aspirations to nuclear energy for development.

“In dealing with issues related to the ‘alleged studies’ (nuclear weaponization), there could be concerns that this is not a core competency of the agency,” the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) said in a statement.

“But NAM believes that in clarifying the ‘alleged studies’, including issues such as high-explosive testing and a missile re-entry vehicle, the agency would act in accordance with its statute,” Cuban envoy Norma Goicochea-Estenoz said for NAM.

The NAM group, which comprise about half of the board, eschewed direct criticism of Iran’s nuclear policy as before.

But a senior Western diplomat in the closed meeting told Reuters: “Nearly every delegation noted serious concerns with the issue. A vast majority called on Iran to suspend enrichment, to (allow wide-ranging snap inspections) and provide additional transparency on the possible military dimension of its (work).”

IRANIAN BEHAVIOUR “NOT CREDIBLE”

The United States, European and other Western nations bemoaned what they saw as Iranian evasions and lined up behind IAEA Director Mohamed ElBaradei’s call for “full disclosure” to resolve what aides have called consistent intelligence reports.

“A simple rejection by Iran of this information as not authentic, forged or fabricated is neither credible nor acceptable, given the quality and quantity of the documents presented by the agency to Iran,” the European Union said in an address given by EU chairman Slovenia.

Slovenian envoy Bojan Bertoncelj also said the EU was alarmed that Iran was nearing the launch of its first, Russian-built nuclear power plant at Bushehr without belonging to the Convention on Nuclear Safety.

The EU’s three big powers — Britain, France and Germany — called the Iran issue “a long and slow crisis, but a grave crisis” since Tehran was markedly expanding enrichment capacity while appearing to cover up past nuclear weaponization work.

“Despite several months of intense discussions between the IAEA and Iran, which follow years of interactions on weaponization concerns, Iran has yet to provide any real answers to the IAEA’s questions,” said U.S. Ambassador Gregory Schulte.

“Iran has instead chosen to deride the IAEA’s questions as ‘baseless allegations’, a charge that (IAEA inspectors) and this board cannot accept,” he told the closed gathering.

“Threats to limit cooperation with the IAEA undermine Iran’s argument that it has nothing to hide.”

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana is due to travel to Iran this month to present a major powers’ offer of incentives to suspend enrichment.

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