VIENNA, (Reuters) – The U.N. nuclear watchdog agency met on Thursday to decide whether to report Tehran to the U.N. Security Council over fears it is secretly seeking atomic bombs.
With diplomats forecasting passage of a resolution, agreed by the council’s five permanent members, to send Iran’s case to New York, Iran threatened to respond by halting U.N. spot checks of its atomic sites and pursuing wide-scale uranium enrichment.
Seeking votes on the 35-nation board of the International Atomic nergy Agency (IAEA), Iran’s envoy said involving the council would be “a historical mistake” and his U.S. counterpart said it was the only way to “get Iran off its dangerous path”.
The resolution cites Iran’s “many failures and breaches of its obligations” under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and speaks of a “resulting lack of confidence that Iran’s nuclear programme is exclusively for peaceful purposes”.
The resolution asks the IAEA board to “convey” to the council a batch of agency reports citing a pattern of Iranian delays and evasions in dealing with IAEA investigators.
A senior diplomat from a developing nation predicted intense debate, in which the resolution’s text could be changed. “We are all negotiating. A lot of the negotiations will be going on outside the (meeting) hall,” he said.
Diplomats said the meeting, which began in the morning, would run for at least two days.
The United States and its European allies persuaded Russia and China this week to back reporting Iran to the council after Tehran stripped IAEA seals from nuclear equipment on Jan. 9, ending a 2-1/2-year moratorium on atomic fuel research.
But the rare show of unity emerged only after Washington and the European Union negotiating trio of Britain, France and Germany agreed that the United Nations would take no action against Iran, such as sanctions, until after a full report from the IAEA’s director at the agency’s regular meeting on March 6.
This would allow time for Russia and Iran to work on details of Moscow’s offer to purify uranium for Tehran, a joint venture aimed at preventing diversion of nuclear fuel to bomb-making.
The compromise among big powers was struck to win over IAEA board members, mainly a large bloc of developing nations, which like Moscow and Beijing wanted to give Iran at least another month to resolve suspicions about its nuclear programme.
“The understanding is: Iran has a month to clean up its act before some action is taken. We think in the end Iran will have too much sense for this dispute to move in nondiplomatic ways,” said a diplomatic source familiar with the resolution.
A senior British official said: “What this means is the Council can add its authority to strengthen the IAEA’s hand in sorting out Iran’s irregularities and non-compliance.”
The Islamic Republic, which says it wants civilian nuclear energy not bombs, kept up its defiance as the IAEA meeting neared. Its growing missile arsenal and its president’s calls for the destruction of Israel have fuelled Western alarm.
Iran’s parliament warned that under a recently enacted law the government must resume uranium enrichment and end IAEA snap inspections of nuclear facilities, a pillar of the NPT, if the Security Council took charge of its file.
“We would immediately stop voluntary cooperation with the Additional Protocol (spot-check regime). It would mean many areas covered by inspections now would no longer be covered. This would a serious historical mistake,” Iranian IAEA envoy Ali Asghar Soltaniyeh said at the Vienna-based IAEA on Wednesday.
If reported to the Security Council, he said, Iran would launch “industrial-scale enrichment”, well beyond a pilot project to purify uranium into nuclear fuel. Iran’s revival of that project prompted the EU trio to seek a U.N. crackdown.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said an IAEA vote to refer Iran’s dossier to the Security Council would do no good.
“Today, some big powers are thinking about creating obstacles for Iran’s nuclear research and peaceful activities, but I am announcing to them … that nuclear energy is our absolute right and we will never step back from our right,” he said on Thursday, Iran’s official IRNA news agency reported.
But some analysts said the West may lack a viable strategy to deter Iran from lurching out of the IAEA’s orbit if its dossier goes to the Security Council.
They cited discord between the West and Russia and China over whether sanctions might ultimately be needed, and a broad reluctance to hit Iran militarily, even as a last resort, given the insurgent war against U.S.-led forces in nearby Iraq.
Russia and China have lucrative energy partnerships with Iran and Moscow is building Iran’s first nuclear power reactor.