VIENNA (AFP) – The watchdog UN atomic agency opened a meeting Monday that will document Iran’s defiance of demands to rein in its nuclear programme and which is expected to approve deep cuts in technical aid to Tehran.
The regular session in Vienna of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s 35-nation board of governors comes as diplomacy accelerates to win guarantees Tehran does not seek the bomb.
IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei will also notify the board that he will be travelling to North Korea on March 13 to discuss how to monitor the communist state’s promised dismantling of its nuclear facilities, a spokeswoman said.
ElBaradei will report on Iran’s defiance of United Nations Security Council demands for it to suspend uranium enrichment, and to in any case allow full monitoring of its sensitive nuclear activities.
Iran is refusing to let IAEA inspectors install cameras to monitor activity at a huge underground site in Natanz where it has already installed 656 centrifuges to enrich uranium, according to IAEA reports.
It plans to raise this number to 3,000 by May and then eventually to over 50,000, according to the IAEA.
Iran says it only seeks to enrich uranium as fuel for nuclear reactors to generate electricity but enriched uranium can also be used to make atomic bombs, and the Natanz facility would be large enough for such industrial-scale work.
ElBaradei is also expected to win approval for the IAEA’s near-halving of technical aid to Iran in line with sanctions the Security Council imposed on the Islamic Republic in a resolution December 23.
Western states are this week seeking even tougher sanctions at the Council, but at the same time Iran and the United States are expected to attend a regional conference that could lead to a breakthrough in contacts between the two adversaries.
The conference Saturday in Baghdad to discuss stabilizing Iraq will include about a dozen other countries, but analysts say it would be significant if Iran and the United States end up sitting at the same table.
The White House denies a change in its foreign policy, noting that bilateral talks are not scheduled at the meeting.
The moves at the Security Council come after ElBaradei reported February 22 that Iran had failed to comply with a Council deadline to halt uranium enrichment, and had in fact increased the scale of this work.
ElBaradei’s report has already been passed on to the Security Council.
A second report on technical aid has meanwhile been circulated in Vienna and both developed and developing nations are in agreement on reducing help for Iran, diplomats said.
Out of 55 national and regional projects that the IAEA has with Iran, 22, or 40 percent, have been either totally or partially frozen but this is subject to final approval from the board.
ElBaradei is set to visit North Korea after the board meeting to discuss the communist state’s dismantling of its nuclear weapons programme in line with an international agreement reached February 13.
“The plan is for Dr. ElBaradei to arrive in Beijing on March 12 and leave for North Korea on the 13th for a two-day visit,” IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said.
ElBaradei said last month that he would discuss with the North Koreans how to implement dismantling the Yongbyon plutonium-producing reactor, the first agreed step of the plan.
North Korea is to receive 50,000 tonnes of heavy fuel oil in return for shutting down the reactor.
ElBaradei will report to the IAEA after his return, with a special board meeting expected in Vienna later this month as board approval is needed to authorise inspections, a diplomat said.
ElBaradei said a key goal of his trip would be to normalise relations between North Korea and the IAEA. Pyongyang had kicked out the agency’s inspectors in December 2002 before withdrawing from the NPT in January 2003.