Fri, Nov 28, 2003 - Page 6 News List

UN's nuclear arms watchdog censures Iran

COMPROMISE The resolution was weaker than the US had hoped for, but the head of the IAEA said it would give him the power to verify Iran's nuclear intentions

AP , VIENNA, AUSTRIA

The UN atomic agency censured Iran Wednesday for 18 years of secrecy, issuing a resolution that its head said gives him more muscle in policing the country for evidence of nuclear weapons ambitions.

Warning Tehran to stay in line, Director General Mohamed ElBaradei of the International Atomic Energy Agency said the measure sends an "ominous message that failures in the future will not be tolerated."

"This is a good day for peace ... and nonproliferation," ElBaradei told reporters, saying the resolution "strengthens my hand in ensuring that Iran's program is for peaceful purposes."

The text, adopted by the 35-nation board of governors of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, was weaker than the US had sought.

It avoided a direct mention of the Security Council -- which has the power of imposing sanctions -- to allow for compromise between the US administration and key European powers wanting weaker wording.

ElBaradei nonetheless emphasized that the resolution gave him expanded powers both in probing Iran's past for signs of nuclear arms ambitions and supervising present programs to ensure they are peaceful.

While the text does not directly invoke the Security Council, its wording means the council could be asked to get involved should there be "serious failures in the future," by Iran, ElBaradei said.

Adopted by consensus, the resolution warns against "further serious Iranian failures," saying that could lead the board to consider actions allowed by its statute -- shorthand for possible referral to the Security Council.

While welcoming Iran's "offer of active cooperation and openness" -- including suspending uranium enrichment and agreeing to thorough inspections on IAEA demand -- the measure calls for a "particularly robust verification system" to test Tehran's honesty.

Washington had insisted last week it would hold out for at least a threat of Security Council action over 18 years of clandestine activities by Iran that US officials say point to a weapons program, including enrichment and plutonium processing.

But France, Germany and Britain opposed a direct Security Council threat, fearing Iran could backtrack on its cooperation and its commitment to clear up questions about its past were it too strongly pressured.

Backing the three European countries, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said in Warsaw, Poland, Wednesday that invoking the Council "would have further complicated an uneasy situation."

A senior US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Washington was "pretty happy" with the compromise text.

"We were handed a lemon by the EU Three, and we turned it into lemonade," he said.

"The US is very skeptical that Iran has stopped its covert nuclear weapons program, and it's only a matter of time until this comes out," under the resolution giving the agency greater policing powers, he said.

In a slap at the US and its allies, an Iranian statement said the resolution offered only "marginal relief to the few hard-liners" on the board.

"Iran's nuclear program is exclusively peaceful and will remain peaceful," said the statement.

ElBaradei was not so unequivocal.

He described his agency's probe as a "work in progress," adding: "We still have a lot work to do before we can conclude that Iran's program is exclusively for peaceful purposes."

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