Rudi Blaha  /  AP
Head of the Iranian delegation Pirooz Hosseini leaves a meeting of the board of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), on Friday, at Vienna's International Center.
updated 3/13/2004 11:17:39 AM ET 2004-03-13T16:17:39

The U.N. atomic agency reached agreement Saturday on how harshly to censure Iran for its spotty record of revealing suspect nuclear activities at a session overshadowed by Tehran’s decision to put nuclear inspections on hold for six weeks.

Iran’s decision to suspend inspections, announced Friday, heightened tensions at a board of governors’ meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Members have been debating for days how to censure Iran over its failure to declare all its nuclear secrets.

A group of 13 developing nations wanted to lighten the tone of the Iran resolution, while the United States and other Western nations that insist Tehran was interested in making nuclear arms had been pushing for harsher language.

The so-called nonaligned group dropped most of its objections but pushed through changed wording that effectively defers the threat of Security Council action against Iran until the board meets again in June. Security Council action could lead to sanctions.

With agreement reached, the full session of the board meeting was to reconvene later Saturday to adopt the resolution, likely by consensus.

Decision to suspend inspections presents obstacle
Iran’s suspension of further U.N. inspections of its nuclear program for six weeks had been dismissed as unimportant by Iranian representatives.

But diplomats familiar with the work of the IAEA described it as a potentially insurmountable obstacle to the agency’s efforts to deliver a judgment by June on the nature Tehran’s past and present nuclear ambitions.

The inspectors were to have been in Iran next week as part of the U.N. agency’s examination of Iran’s nuclear program.

David Albright, a former Iraq nuclear inspector who runs the Institute for Science and International Security, said from Washington that Iran would be “violating the Nonproliferation Treaty if the IAEA says, ’We have to do inspections,’ and they don’t let them in."

“If Iran doesn’t let the inspectors in, it will have to go before the (U.N.) Security Council,” he said by telephone.

A U.S. official told the AP that Iran “is certainly being pressured” by IAEA officials “to take their measure back.”

IAEA accuses Iran of hiding evidence
An IAEA report last month accused Iran of hiding evidence of nuclear experiments and noted the discovery of traces of radioactive polonium, which can be used in nuclear weapons.

The report also expressed concern about the discovery of a previously undisclosed advanced P-2 centrifuge system for enriching uranium.

The United States insists Iran tried to make nuclear weapons, something Tehran denies.

A U.S. official said the freeze on inspections “is going to hurt Iran’s chances” of proving the Americans wrong, adding, “if they take a step like this, they certainly look guilty.” He said the move had alarmed IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei, who had planned to put the results of his inspectors’ new findings into a report by the end of May for the next meeting of the 35-nation board in June.

Iran “is certainly being pressured by ElBaradei and members of the board to take their measure back,” the official told the AP.

Iran, which insists its nuclear intentions are peaceful, has threatened repeatedly over the past few days to reduce cooperation with the U.N. agency if its 35-nation board of governors comes down hard on the Islamic republic.

On Thursday, the nonaligned bloc watered down a draft resolution backed by the United States, Canada, Australia and European countries. The Western group then rejected the draft as being too gentle on Iran.

The deadlock left Australian, Canadian and Irish diplomats shuttling between U.S. and nonaligned representatives trying to bridge the differences.

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