U.N. Nuclear Chief Sees Worrying Signals from Iran
Wed September 24, 2003 02:33 PM ET
VIENNA (Reuters) -
The U.N. nuclear watchdog agency said Wednesday Iran faced serious consequences if it fails to meet an Oct. 31 deadline to prove its nuclear ambitions were peaceful, adding that Tehran was putting out "worrying signals."
The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, made clear Iran was likely to be reported to the U.N. Security Council, which has the power to impose sanctions, if doubts remained about Tehran's program when the deadline passes.
Any decision by Iran to pull out of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty would ratchet up the crisis even further, ElBaradei told National Public Radio.
"Then the matter would go to a much higher level of confrontation," he warned.
The IAEA governing board set its deadline last month after strong lobbying by the United States for action. Asked what the findings in Iran this year told his agency about Tehran's nuclear program, ElBaradei said: "It tells us that there are signals that are worrying.
"The international community needs as fast as possible assurance that Iran's nuclear program is dedicated to peaceful purposes," he added, speaking from Vienna.
Among the "worrying signals" were the discovery of highly enriched uranium at the Natanz enrichment plant and statements that its enrichment centrifuges have not been tested with nuclear material despite the IAEA's conclusion that Iran must have carried out live tests.
Washington, which branded Iran part of an "axis of evil" with North Korea and pre-war Iraq, believes Iran's enrichment plants may be used to purify uranium for use in a nuclear bomb.
The IAEA board called on Iran to suspend enrichment activities.
Iran denies the U.S. allegation and insists its nuclear ambitions are limited to generating electricity.
Many non-proliferation experts say secret tests of the centrifuges, which can purify uranium for use in nuclear fuel -- or weapons -- would be grounds for declaring Iran in violation of its obligations under the non-proliferation treaty. This would require reporting Iran to the Security Council for possible economic sanctions.
If Iran does not answer all of the U.N. watchdog's questions about its nuclear activities by the end of October, ElBaradei will have to inform the IAEA board in November he is unable to verify that Iran's nuclear program is peaceful.
"If I'm not able to verify Iran's program (is peaceful) I think the board will probably take appropriate action, including referring the matter to the Security Council," he said, adding this "could have serious consequences for Iran."
Since adopting the resolution on Sept. 12, Iran has said it would reduce cooperation with the IAEA to the legally required minimum. It has also indicated that it might follow North Korea's lead and withdraw from the non-proliferation pact.
"I hope Iran would look at this (deadline) as an opportunity not as an ultimatum," ElBaradei said. "I think Iran is at a crossroads. Either implement its obligations under the NPT ... or try to walk out of its international obligations."
He warned that a decision to leave the treaty would tell the world that Tehran's nuclear ambitions are not peaceful. http://reuters.com/newsArticle.jhtml?type=worldNews&storyID=3502004