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U.N. watchdog has ‘serious concern’ over Iran

Diplomats at the U.N. nuclear agency debated a draft resolution on Thursday that expressed “serious concern” over Iran’s decision to restart uranium reprocessing.
Iran removed the final seals from reprocessing equipment at this Uranium Conversion Facility, just outside the city of Isfahan.
Iran removed the final seals from reprocessing equipment at this Uranium Conversion Facility, just outside the city of Isfahan. Vahid Salemi / AP file
/ Source: news services

The International Atomic Energy Agency unanimously approved a resolution on Thursday demanding that Iran suspend all nuclear activities it resumed earlier this week, a diplomat said.

The diplomat from a country on the agency's 35-nation board said the resolution, drafted by France, Britain and Germany, expressed "serious concern" at Iran's resumption on Monday of nuclear work that could be used to make atomic weapons.

But it did not call for Iran's case to be referred to the U.N. Security Council, which has the power to impose sanctions. However, European Union diplomats said that if Tehran fails to comply with the resolution they will push for Iran to be referred to the U.N. council for punitive action in September.

An earlier draft resolution obtained by the Associated Press requested IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei provide the board with a comprehensive report on Iran’s compliance with an agency safeguards agreement by Sept. 3.

Negotiations on how to rebuke Iran started Tuesday, when the board met for an emergency session. A meeting tentatively planned for Wednesday was postponed to give delegates more time for informal talks.

Although the IAEA board has the power to report Tehran to the Security Council, which can impose economic and political sanctions on the regime, diplomats made clear they were not considering that step — widely seen as a last resort — and instead were holding out hope for a negotiated end to the standoff.

Uranium enrichment was a sticking point at the IAEA talks, with some member states arguing that no countries should be barred from doing it for peaceful purposes. Highly enriched uranium can be used to make weapons. Uranium enriched to a lower level is used to produce energy.

IAEA seals broken
On Wednesday, agency inspectors watched as Iranian workers removed IAEA seals at a uranium conversion plant in Isfahan. Workers were set to resume the final steps of conversion, a process that precedes enrichment. Some conversion activities were resumed Monday.

In the past, the IAEA board has said the suspension was a voluntary but necessary confidence-building measure to alleviate concerns about Iran’s nuclear program.

“This should (in) no way be seen as an endorsement,” IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said of the removal of the seals. A surveillance system allowing the agency to keep track of nuclear material at the plant was installed, she said.

Iran says its nuclear program is entirely peaceful. But the United States and others fear Iran could use its program to build bombs — concerns fueled by past revelations that Iran concealed 18 years of nuclear activities, including uranium enrichment.

Matthew Boland, a spokesman for the U.S. mission to the IAEA, called the breaking of the seals “yet another sign of Iran’s disregard for international concerns.”

“We strongly support (Germany’s, Britain’s and France’s) efforts to convince Iran to stop its dangerous activities,” he said.

The European Union said in a statement it does “not believe that Iran has any operational need to engage in fissile material production activities ... if the intentions of its nuclear program are exclusively peaceful.”

Annan urges talks with EU
But Iran’s chief IAEA delegate, Sirus Nasseri, argued earlier that all countries should be permitted to produce their own nuclear power plant fuel to prevent being “dependent on an exclusive cartel of nuclear fuel suppliers — a cartel that has a manifest record of denials and restrictions for political and commercial reasons.”

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan called on the Iranians to continue discussions with the three European Union nations and urged all parties not to take any actions that would further escalate the situation.

“I think it is essential that we break this current impasse. And I believe the best way to break the impasse is to continue the discussions, the EU-three with the Iranians,” he told reporters Wednesday.

Iran had suspended uranium conversion and enrichment under an agreement with the three EU countries.

On Saturday, Tehran rejected the latest EU offer of economic and political incentives but has said it still wanted to continue with the talks, expected to continue later this month.