VIENNA, (Reuters) – Talk of staging a special U.N. nuclear watchdog meeting to pile pressure on Iran has abated because of its moderate response to new U.N. sanctions and a wish to avoid damaging strife within the agency, diplomats say.
The International Atomic Energy Agency is reassessing dozens of technical aid projects in Iran to see if any violate a Dec. 23 U.N. Security Council resolution imposing penalties on Tehran over fears it is secretly trying to build atom bombs.
Some Western powers leading efforts to curb Iran’s programme to enrich uranium for nuclear fuel originally felt the review would warrant an emergency session of the IAEA’s 35-nation governing board to vote on cutting the aid packages.
But sentiment for a snap meeting in January, two months ahead of the next scheduled session, subsided when it became clear this could wreck the board’s cohesion and Iran was reacting cautiously to the resolution following election losses by nuclear hardliners to moderates counselling restraint.
A special session also risked a schism between Western and developing nations on the board, affecting the consensual culture of an agency that promotes nuclear energy for peaceful development if states pledge not to divert it to bomb-making.
Developing nations oppose what they regard as a U.S.-European effort, spurred by suspicion over Iran’s intentions, to curb IAEA technical aid that has long been routine and given them a major stake in the agency’s non-proliferation regime.
The board denied Iran’s bid for technical aid for a heavy water reactor at its November meeting. But that was only after developing nations persuaded Western counterparts in politically charged talks to leave seven other aid items for Iran intact. “Nobody wants to repeat November,” said a diplomat from one of the three European powers — France, Britain and Germany — that sponsored the resolution cutting off transfers in materials and know-how to Iran of use in producing nuclear fuel. “This would only provide a platform for those who disagree with the resolution and make use of it to question the Security Council’s legitimacy,” said the diplomat, who like others asked for anonymity.
Diplomats said IAEA director Mohamed ElBaradei had assured board members he would put on hold any technical aid for Iranian nuclear activity that might flout the resolution, pending the internal review and a future board vote, if needed. “There’s no hurry now. We have time to let tempers cool and address the technical issue in March, when Iran’s direction is clearer. So far, their reaction to the resolution has been quite good,” said a developing nation ambassador on the board.
The IAEA review is expected to land some time in February.
Iran has vowed never to heed the Council’s demand to shelve nuclear fuel-enrichment research. It insists the programme is for generating electricity not weapons as the West suspects.
But Tehran retreated from earlier threats to bolt from the Non-Proliferation Treaty if hit with sanctions. Instead it has pledged to preserve IAEA inspections of its nuclear sites.
Analysts say Iran’s mild response reflects the limited scope of the sanctions. Tehran has warned it would rethink IAEA ties if pushed. The resolution does raise the prospect of harsher sanctions if Iran does not stop enrichment work within 60 days. But diplomats find it intriguing that Iran appears not to have begun installing 3,000 centrifuge machines for planned “industrial scale” output of enriched uranium, as it defiantly vowed to do immediately following passage of the resolution. “People here can see the voice of Iranian moderates has strengthened since the elections,” the developing nation ambassador said. “This may be why the government is hesitating to (escalate the centrifuge programme) and goad the West.”