U.N. Agency to Rebuke Iran for Obstructing Inspections
By MARK LANDLER
Published: June 18, 2004
IENNA, June 17 - The International Atomic Energy Agency's governing board prepared to deliver a stinging rebuke to Iran on Thursday for its lack of cooperation, deepening the conflict between Tehran and much of the world over its nuclear ambitions.
The criticism is contained in a resolution, expected to be ratified by the board on Friday, which accuses Iran of obstructing the agency's efforts to inspect sophisticated centrifuge facilities, where Iran could produce weapons-grade uranium.
"Iran's cooperation has not been as full, timely and proactive as it should have been,'' the resolution said.
It also called on Iran to answer critical lingering questions about the scope of its centrifuge program and the source of the technology. Investigators also want to know how several of its nuclear sites became contaminated with uranium, some of which was enriched to a purity suitable for weapons.
The United States contends that Iran is pursuing nuclear arms, while Tehran insists it is seeking only commercial nuclear energy.
Iran's motives are likely to come under fresh scrutiny in the wake of a new report of suspicious activity next to a military site near Tehran. The report, broadcast Wednesday on ABC News, said commercial satellite images showed that buildings on the site had been razed and that topsoil had been removed.
Officials close to the agency said they were concerned by the report and planned to investigate. Of particular concern is evidence that radiation-detection equipment may have been present on the site. "It has to be checked out,'' said one official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The resolution, drafted by Britain, France and Germany, was agreed to after four days of intense negotiations at the agency's headquarters in Vienna. It survived a last-minute hurdle when the agency admitted it had erred in claiming that Iran had denied importing centrifuge parts.
After a protest from Iran, the agency said it had failed to take account of an Iranian businessman who disclosed that he had imported parts for centrifuges. The man, who owns a private workshop in Iran, told agency inspectors during a meeting last January that he had bought a magnet used in the manufacture of P-2 centrifuges from outside the country.
"It's a fault that we did not pick it up,'' said Mohamed ElBaradei, the agency's director general. "It was not fed to our system."
The mistake led the board to soften a part of the statement that had criticized Iran for its "changing or contradictory information." Now, it says only that the information "continues to lack the necessary clarity."
Diplomatic nuances aside, the resolution is a setback for Iran, which has counted on the support of nonaligned countries in previous confrontations with the atomic energy agency. In this debate, it was clear that Iran had lost the support of countries like China, Russia and Pakistan.
Gaining the support of Russia, a major supplier of nuclear equipment to Iran, gave the antiproliferation campaign particular momentum.
Iran tried to put the best face on matters, noting that the resolution did not impose a deadline for Iranian cooperation, as the United States had wanted. The board also made a relatively muted appeal to Iran not to proceed with its plans to build a heavy-water research reactor or start production at a uranium conversion facility.
An earlier draft of the resolution had used stronger language in asking Tehran to cancel the projects. Officials in Washington and elsewhere suspect they will be used to enrich uranium.
"I consider this has been a victory for Iran,'' the chief of the Iranian delegation, Hossein Mousavian, said.
Last September, he said, some of Iran's critics were suggesting that it possessed a nuclear bomb. Little was said about that here this week. Diplomats once raised the prospect of referring Iran's actions to the United Nations Security Council. Such a move, he said, now seemed remote.
Mr. Mousavian said Iran would continue to work with the agency and would not withdraw from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. He also said that Iran would adhere to an October agreement with Britain, France and Germany in which it pledged to suspend the enrichment of uranium. The Iranian president, Mohammad Khatami, has said the country is under no "moral commitment" to stick to that deal if the resolution passes.
Conservative members of Iran's Parliament have threatened not to ratify a separate agreement with the agency that permits unannounced inspections of its facilities.