Sat, Nov 15, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Tehran talks tough over nuclear report

STERN WARNING Iran's ambassador to the IAEA says if the UN watchdog finds it in breach of a global anti-nuclear pact, the consequences could easily get `out of control'

REUTERS , VIENNA

Tehran warned yesterday of "unpredictable consequences" if the UN watchdog finds it in breach of a global pact against atomic weapons, as Washington accused the UN of playing down "evidence" Iran wants a bomb.

On Nov. 20, the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) Board of Governors meets to discuss an IAEA report on Iran's nuclear program, detailing decades of failures by Iran to report truthfully about its activities and facilities.

The US wants the board to declare Iran in violation of its obligations under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which would require it to report Iran to the UN Security Council for possible economic sanctions.

"I hope we do not reach such a stage because then things could very easily get out of control," Iran's ambassador to the IAEA, Ali Akbar Salehi, said in an interview.

"And then it could lead to unpredictable consequences. We don't even want to think about such a situation," he added, without elaborating.

The IAEA's report concluded there was "no evidence" to date that Iran's nuclear program was for anything but peaceful purposes, but said the jury was still out.

National security adviser Condoleezza Rice, speaking to reporters, said the report made clear the Iranians had not been truthful in the past about their nuclear activities. It would be wrong to suggest it allayed fears about the nuclear program.

"And I think the issue now is are they going to be truthful in the future? Are they going to come clean about what had been going on in Iran, what is going on in Iran?"

Rice said the international community should keep up the pressure, given Iran's track record of secrecy.

The IAEA stuck to its guns. "We stand by the report, but it's classified and will be considered at next week's [IAEA] board meeting," spokesman Mark Gwozdecky said. He declined to comment further.

The IAEA report said Iran hid a centrifuge uranium enrichment program for 18 years and produced small amounts of plutonium, useable in a bomb and with scant civilian uses.

Although diplomats said Washington had few allies on the IAEA board, they said it was searching for a compromise with France, Britain and Germany, who would prefer to encourage Iran to keep cooperating with the UN than punish past failures.

Such a compromise might include a word synonymous with violation in the text of a resolution, couched in compliments of Iran's new style of full cooperation with the UN.

But Salehi said this would be "unacceptable" to Iran.

Referring to a deal struck by the foreign ministers of France, Germany and Britain on Oct. 21 in Tehran, Salehi said the three countries should keep their word and not support any US-backed IAEA board resolution stating that Iran was in any way in non-compliance.

"We are testing how far we can trust the words of the Europeans on this particular issue. We have taken action on our words. We hope that the Europeans also take action on their words," Salehi said.

Iran had agreed with the Europeans to suspend its controversial uranium enrichment program and sign the NPT Additional Protocol permitting the IAEA to perform more intrusive, short-notice inspections of all its nuclear sites.

In exchange, the Europeans agreed to consider a future exchange of technology. Diplomats have said there was also a tacit agreement not to back a non-compliance resolution.

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