Tue, Sep 12, 2006 - Page 7 News List

UN atomic agency to discuss Iran

POSSIBLE CONCESSION With Tehran hinting that it might suspend enrichment work, Security Council members will likely be less ready to impose any sanctions

AP , VIENNA

The International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) 35-nation board wa scheduled to focus on Iran at a meeting opening yesterday. But with Tehran considering a temporary uranium enrichment freeze, few nations are expected to harshly criticize its nuclear defiance.

The board was responsible for moving Iran's nuclear file to the UN Security Council early this year and the US and its allies have regularly used its sessions to take Tehran to task for what they say are secret attempts to build nuclear weapons.

The board will hear a report from IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei that essentially says Iran has stalemated a more than three-year investigation of its activities by the UN nuclear watchdog.

ElBaradei may also warn that economic sanctions -- one possible method being considered by the UN Security Council to enforce its demand that Tehran freeze enrichment -- could lead Iran to prohibit further inspections by his experts.

But Iran's suggestion that it is ready to consider complying -- at least temporarily -- with a UN Security Council demand that it freeze uranium enrichment is likely to take some pressure off the Islamic nation when the board takes up its case later in the week.

Ahead of yesterday's opening session, a diplomat from a board member country said the EU has prepared a "moderate" statement on Iran and its nuclear defiance.

The diplomat asked for anonymity in exchange for sharing confidential information. He also said the six Security Council nations and Germany -- on the behalf of which EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana met on the weekend with Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani -- were considering a joint statement.

But that could be difficult, considering that Russia, China and France appear to be opposed to a push by the US and Britain for the UN to move quickly on sanctions.

The surprise news that Iran was considering stopping enrichment activities for up to two months was revealed to reporters shortly after the end of weekend talks in Vienna between Larijani and Solana by diplomats who were familiar with the substance of the discussions.

One of them said Larijani floated the possibility of Iran stopping its enrichment activities "voluntarily, for one or two months, if presented ... in such a way that it does it without pressure."

The diplomats did not say when such a contemplated move could start.

Still, such a concession would be a major departure for Iran, which insists it wants to develop an enrichment program not to make nuclear weapons -- as critics assert -- but to generate power.

Because it would defuse a confrontation that both sides do not want, it would also be welcomed by a majority of the five permanent UN Security Council members that oppose a quick move to sanctions.

For the sake of unity, it would also likely be grudgingly accepted by the US and Britain, which have continued to push for rapid UN action.

With France expressing reservations, Washington and London now appear to be the only permanent council members espousing such action.

For the sake of unity, though, even they would likely accept a compromise that falls short of original demands that Tehran freeze enrichment before starting talks on its nuclear program aimed at achieving a long-term moratorium on such activities.

Russia and China have resisted a quick move to sanctions even though they agree on the principle of using them as a lever.

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