November 17, 2011
UN nuclear chief says he “must alert world” about Iran
The U.N. nuclear chief said on Thursday it was his duty to “alert the world” about suspected work in Iran to develop atomic bombs, and major powers prepared to intensify the pressure on the Islamic state.
International Atomic Energy Agency head Yukiya Amano stressed the need for Iran to engage in serious talks and said he wanted to send a high-level mission to the country to address mounting fears about the nature of its nuclear activities.
An IAEA report last week which assessed that Iran has been conducting research and experiments geared to developing a nuclear weapons capability has stoked tensions in the Middle East and raised a clamour in Western capitals for harsher sanctions against the Islamic Republic.
“It is clear that Iran has a case to answer,” Amano told a news conference. “We have to alert the world before nuclear proliferation actually takes place.”
He made the blunt statement at a meeting of its 35-nation governing board, where six major powers were set to close ranks on a draft resolutions that expresses “deep and increasing concern” about Iran’s activities and calls on it to open up fully to U.N. inspectors, according to a draft seen by Reuters.
The statement called on Iran “to engage seriously and without preconditions in talks”, to address nuclear concerns.
Vienna-based Western diplomats said the powers had agreed compromise language for a draft resolution, to be put to governors for approval by Friday, after Western states and Russia overcame divisions stirred anew by Amano’s report.
But the resolution will not satisfy those in the West and in Israel, Iran’s arch-enemy, who had hoped Amano’s document would trigger concrete international action to rein in Tehran, such as an IAEA referral of its case to the U.N. Security Council.
Amano said he had written to the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation, Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani, earlier this month to suggest the visit, which would air issues raised by the hard-hitting IAEA report.
“Throughout the past three years, we have obtained additional information which gives us a fuller picture of Iran’s nuclear programme and increases our concerns about possible military dimensions,” he told the board.
“The information indicates that Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device,” he said, in his bluntest public statement so far on Iran’s contested nuclear programme.
Iran denies says it is enriching uranium only for nuclear power plants, not weapons, dismissing the intelligence information in the IAEA report obtained mainly from Western states as fabricated, and accusing the IAEA of pro-Western bias.
Amano said he hoped a “suitable date” could be agreed soon for his team’s visit to Iran, which permits IAEA inspections of declared nuclear sites but since 2008 has stonewalled an agency investigation into “alleged studies” applicable to atomic bombs.
WEST SEEKS MORE IRAN PRESSURE
“It is essential that any such mission should be well planned and that it should address the issues contained in my report,” Amano said, according to a copy of his speech.
“I ask Iran to engage substantively with the agency without delay and provide the requested clarifications regarding possible military dimensions to its nuclear programme.”
The fact that the six big powers were ironing out an IAEA resolution will be welcomed in the West after Amano’s report prompted Russia to complain that it was politicised and dimmed chances of a negotiated solution to the Iran nuclear dispute.
Moscow’s stance exposed big power divisions over how to best to resolve it: Western states seized on the IAEA report to try to step up pressure on Tehran in the form of farther-reaching economic sanctions, which Russia and China oppose.
“It (the IAEA resolution) will maintain pressure on Iran,” one Western diplomat said. He and others said they were waiting for Beijing to formally approve the text before putting it to the board meeting, which runs through Friday.
In November 2009, IAEA governors including Russia and China rebuked Iran for building a uranium enrichment plant in secret. Iran rejected that vote as “intimidation”.
The latest draft text—expected to be co-sponsored by the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China—would stop short of actions with teeth such as reporting Iran once again to the U.N. Security Council.
There has been concern that if the powers cannot settle their differences over how to nudge Iran into serious nuclear negotiations, then Israel, which feels endangered by Iranian nuclear aspirations, will attack it.
Israel is widely believed to have the Middle East’s only nuclear arsenal to deter numerically superior enemies, but has never confirmed or denied it.
Russia has significant trade ties with Iran and also built its first nuclear power plant, launched at Bushehr earlier this year. China is a major importer of Iranian oil.
Editing by Mark Heinrich