VIENNA (Reuters) - A meeting of 130 nations on how to shore up the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was suspended on Wednesday for 24 hours so diplomats could try and overcome a standoff triggered by Iran’s objections to the agenda.
At odds with Western powers over their suspicions it is seeking to build atom bombs under cover of a civilian nuclear energy program, Iran says a clause inserted in the agenda would unjustly single it out as the prime peril to the NPT.
When the two-week meeting began on Monday, Iran blocked the required consensus on the agenda over a phrase citing the need for NPT members to consider “approaches and measures to realize its purpose, reaffirming the need for full compliance”.
The wording was added at the behest of some Western powers which consider Iran and North Korea, which walked out of the NPT and tested a nuclear device last year, the biggest threats to the treaty’s integrity, diplomats said.
Iran said the clause glossed over nuclear weapons states’ role in weakening the NPT by failing to phase out their arsenals or push for a nuclear arms-free zone in the Middle East by pressing Israel to dismantle its undeclared atomic firepower.
Earlier on Wednesday, Iranian envoy Ali Asghar Soltanieh said Tehran would drop its challenge if the passage on compliance was expanded to specifically mention disarmament by major powers with nuclear weapons.
Yukiya Amano, Japanese chairman at the NPT Preparatory Committee session, said he was adjourning the meeting until Thursday afternoon to try and resolve the dispute.
“The parties here need time to think. It’s complicated,” Amano said before starting more consultations late on Wednesday.
The two-week NPT “Preparatory Committee” meeting is aimed at drafting priorities for the next, decision-making treaty Review Conference in 2010. A lack of consensus over agenda paralyzed the last NPT Review Conference in 2005.
“Iran is for constructive proposals (to improve the NPT) if our concerns are taken into account,” Soltanieh told reporters.
“Our position is unchanged but we’re prepared to be open-minded.”
Iran denies Western fears it harbors a secret atomic bomb project, saying it is enriching uranium for electricity.
But the U.N. Security Council has imposed sanctions on Tehran for refusing to suspend the program, hiding nuclear research in the past and stonewalling U.N. inquiries now.
“Iran is isolated. We cannot let it take this meeting hostage,” said a European Union delegate.
Iran had sympathy at the NPT session from a few U.S. foes like Cuba but the vast majority -- both industrialized nations and many of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) of developing states to which Tehran belongs -- accepted the agenda, diplomats said.
“Iran is wrong if it thinks ‘compliance’ is meant to attack them only. For NAM, ‘compliance’ also means the nuclear weapons states should disarm and stop supplying states outside the NPT,” a NAM diplomat said, citing U.S. military links with Israel.
The NPT binds members without nuclear bombs not to acquire them, guarantees the right of all members to nuclear energy for peaceful ends, and commits the original five nuclear powers from the post World War Two era to phase out their arsenals.
Security analysts say the NPT must be overhauled to cope with states tempted to divert civilian nuclear fuel industries developed within terms of the treaty into weapons production.