UN watchdog censures Iran on nuclear drive
VIENNA (AFP) – The UN nuclear watchdog censured Iran on Friday and demanded it immediately halt construction of a newly-revealed uranium enrichment plant as world powers united against Tehran.
After China and Russia joined forces with Western nations, 25 members of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s 35-strong board voted for a resolution which was the first to be passed against Iran since February 2006.
The vote was swiftly denounced by Iran whose ambassador to the IAEA said it would “jeopardise the conducive environment” for dialogue.
The envoy, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, said Iran would consider “other options” for enriching uranium deal but would not pull out of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
Western powers have long suspected Iran is trying to build a nuclear bomb but have struggled to get diplomatic backing from China and Russia.
This time however both countries joined Britain, France, Germany and the United States in sponsoring the resolution in a sign of Tehran’s diplomatic isolation. Only Venezuela, Malaysia and Cuba voted against the resolution
Moscow and Beijing came on board following the revelation in September that Iran had been secretly building for the past two years a second uranium enrichment plant near the holy city of Qom.
Enriched uranium is at the heart of the West’s concerns about the Iranian nuclear programme. Uranium is used to make fuel for nuclear power plants but also the fissile material for an atomic bomb.
Iran has been enriching uranium at a bigger plant in Natanz for several years, in defiance of UN sanctions to halt all such activity.
Iran insists its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes and to supply energy.
In February 2006 the IAEA referred Tehran to the UN Security Council over its refusal to suspend enrichment and agree to full and complete inspections by the agency.
The new resolution urges Iran to “suspend immediately” construction of the plant at Qom.
It calls upon Tehran to reveal the purpose of the plant and the chronology of its construction.
It presses the Islamic Republic to “confirm … that (it) has not taken a decision to construct, or authorize construction of, any other nuclear facility which has as yet not been declared to the agency.”
Iran made similar assurances to the IAEA in September 2008, only to admit a year later that it had been secretly building the facility at Qom since the second half of 2007.
The IAEA says it has satellite images of construction at the site as far back as 2002. Tehran insists the original purpose of the plant was non-nuclear and so it was therefore under no obligation to declare it.
On Thursday, Mohamed ElBaradei — who steps down as director general next week after 12 years in office — criticised Iran for concealing the plant.
He complained that the agency’s efforts to verify the peaceful nature of Iran’s atomic programme had reached a “dead end”.
Soltanieh however said Iran remained “ready to negotiate”.
“But if we are not getting the positive response, we cannot wait more. Time is of the essence and therefore we have to study other options,” he told reporters.
Asked if Iran would consider quitting the NPT, he said: “At least at this stage, I can say no we are not going to pull back or withdraw from NPT.”
Britain said the resolution sends ‘strongest possible signal’ to Iran whileGermany’s ambassador to the IAEA said the new resolution would “serve as a reminder and an encouragement for Iran to seize the existing opportunities … with a view to achieving a comprehensive diplomatic solution.
“We extend a hand and appeal to Iran to take it,” Ruediger Luedeking said.