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Nations near agreement to deny Iran nuke aid

Most of the 35 countries at a key meeting of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency have agreed to deny Iran technical aid for a plutonium-producing reactor, diplomats said Tuesday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Most of the 35 countries at a key meeting of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency have agreed to deny Iran technical aid for a plutonium-producing reactor, diplomats said Tuesday.

Four participating diplomats said that Tehran’s requests for International Atomic Energy Agency aid on seven other nuclear projects would be approved under the tentative agreement, but help building the Arak heavy-water reactor would be denied.

The board hopes to reach consensus. But in the event of a vote forced by Iranian allies such as Cuba, the four diplomats said, the necessary majority of IAEA board members — 18— support the agreement. One diplomat said that more than 20 had agreed to the plan.

Iran says it wants Arak to produce radioactive isotopes for diagnosing and treating cancer.

But the plutonium the reactor would produce would give Iran a second possible path to a nuclear weapon. Most international efforts have focused on Tehran’s efforts to enrich uranium.

Tehran blasts opposition
In prepared comments to a closed committee meeting that were made available to The Associated Press, Iran’s chief delegate, Ali Ashgar Soltanieh, lambasted nations opposed to aid for Arak, accusing them of “imposing their politically motivated and discriminatory policies” on the meeting.

Alluding to the United States and its allies, Soltanieh accused them of ignoring the dangers that Israel — widely considered to have nuclear weapons — poses to the Middle East.

“Sooner or later the governments of these countries will be brought to judgment and shall be questioned for deception of their own nation as well as (the) international community,” he declared.

Critics argue that Iran’s existing research reactor — which uses light-water technology — is more than adequate for the Islamic republic’s stated needs of producing cancer-fighting isotopes.

Denying Iran help with Arak — where it is seeking agency assistance to make sure the reactor is environmentally safe — would do little to slow construction of that facility or affect Tehran’s uranium enrichment. Still, it would maintain at least symbolic pressure amid deadlock in the U.N. Security Council over how to pressure Iran to rein in its nuclear program. When finished — probably early in the next decade — Arak could produce enough plutonium for about two bombs a year.

Formal decision coming soon
The decision to bar aid for Arak would be formally made on Thursday, once a committee meeting ends and the full board meeting begins. The chairman of that meeting would announce approval of all the projects except for Arak, the diplomats, speaking independently and asking for anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the substance of the closed board meeting, told The Associated Press.

The United States said Monday that it would accept Tehran’s requests for U.N. aid on seven of eight nuclear projects but not its request for help on Arak. The decision reflected U.S. recognition that it was useless to try to block IAEA help to Iran on all eight projects because of opposition by most of the board.

The other seven projects were less controversial.

One asks for help in developing nuclear capabilities for medical use. Another seeks legal aid for a Russian-built reactor at Bushehr that even the Americans have accepted as not posing a threat of nuclear proliferation. The remaining five ask for assistance in administrative or safety programs, according to a list made available to the AP.

The IAEA board referred Iran to the Security Council in February, suggesting that Tehran had breached the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and might be trying to make nuclear weapons.

The five permanent Security Council members agreed to move toward sanctions after Tehran ignored an Aug. 31 council deadline to stop uranium enrichment activities.

But Russia — backed by China — opposes tough action advocated by the United States, Britain and France. Russian amendments to a Western draft resolution seek to reduce sanctions to a minimum, deleting language that would have choked off Iran’s access to foreign missile technology and most nuclear procurements.

That has resulted in increased attention to the Vienna IAEA meeting as a venue to continue applying pressure on Iran over its nuclear program.

Iran has rejected a six-nation package of incentives that would have given it Western-produced light-water reactors in return for freezing both construction of Arak and its attempts to expand its enrichment program.