Mon, Nov 17, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Iran sees US hard-line aproach failing

NUCLEAR PROGRAM The US administration wants Iran declared in violation of the Nonproliferation Treaty, but diplomats say the get-tough approach could backfire


Iran's chief delegate to the UN atomic agency said Saturday the US will fail in its attempt to take his country before the Security Council to face possible sanctions for suspect nuclear activities.

Ali Akbar Salehi said any Security Council involvement "could lead to consequences that none of us would like to witness."

Diplomats fear harsh actions against Tehran could backfire, leading it to renege on promises of cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency and again draw the curtain on Iran's nuclear agenda.

The US administration wants Iran declared in violation of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) at an IAEA board meeting Thursday, a move that would lead to UN Security Council involvement and possible sanctions.

Yet most members of the board advocate less drastic measures, the diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity, and some added that Washington could back away from its stance.

An IAEA report has found Iran guilty of covering up past nuclear programs -- including enriching uranium and processing small amounts of plutonium -- that Washington says prove Tehran's intent to manufacture weapons.

The document, prepared for Thursday's IAEA meeting, lists nuclear cover-ups, some over decades, and suggests they effectively represent violations of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty through "breaches" of safeguards agreements that are part of that treaty.

IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei's report found "no evidence" Tehran tried to make atomic bombs, but said such efforts cannot be ruled out until Iran's previously covert activities are further examined.

But Iran claims it has not violated the treaty, dismissing clandestine activities as "mistakes" it has now rectified by giving the agency what it says is a complete report of the past.

"I think the majority of the board members think that way, the overwhelming majority," Salehi said, suggesting that the Americans will not have enough support at the 35-nation meeting to get the Security Council involved.

Diplomats who follow the agency also spoke of substantial opposition to a harsh response, with even key US allies leaning toward a resolution that stops short of referring the issue to the Security Council.

While there is no doubt that Iran breached its safeguards agreements, there is fear that Iran could renege on recent moves to work with the agency if slapped too hard, one diplomat said.

"The majority view is that Iran did in fact violate the NPT, and the only question is what the next appropriate step should be," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Another diplomat said a "strongly worded" draft resolution being drawn up by Britain, France and Germany demands that Iran continue acting on its stated intention to cooperate with the agency.

The draft could urge Tehran to clear up suspicions arising from past covert activities and open present programs to thorough IAEA control but stops short of declaring Iran in noncompliance, meaning the issue will not be kicked up to the Security Council, said the diplomat, who -- like the others -- demanded anonymity.

The diplomats emphasized that the draft could be withdrawn, merged with others or substantially changed even before the board starts meeting Thursday.

Another diplomat familiar with the US position said Washington still hopes for some kind of Security Council involvement but could settle for council admonition of Iran that stops far short of sanctions threats.

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