Wed, Nov 22, 2006 - Page 7 News List

US accepts Iran's call for nuclear aid

PLUTONIUM PROBLEM While the US recognizes the futility of blocking assistance on nuclear projects in Iran, it remains steadfast on preventing the manufacture of bombs


The US says it will accept Tehran's requests for UN aid on seven nuclear projects, but urged the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to deny any assistance to Tehran for a plutonium-producing reactor that can be used to make a bomb.

The decision on Monday reflected US recognition that it was useless to try to block IAEA help to Iran on all eight projects because of opposition by most of the agency's 35-nation board.

It also appeared prompted by an IAEA ruling that neither the reactor nor the other projects posed a proliferation threat.

Some diplomats accredited to the Vienna-based UN nuclear watchdog agency suggested it could reflect a US decision to tread relatively lightly while Washington weighs the pros and cons of seeking direct dialogue with Tehran on reducing violence in Iraq. US officials declined comment.

"We are prepared to join consensus" on approving the seven other requests from Iran as long as the agency's board agrees to deny aid to Iran on building the Arak research reactor, said Gregory Schulte, the chief US delegate to the IAEA.

On Arak, Schulte described it as being "capable of producing plutonium for one or more nuclear weapons each year," once completed, likely in the next decade.

"Given past board decisions, continued questions about Iran's nuclear program, and the risk of plutonium being diverted to use in a weapons, the US joins with others who cannot approve this project," he said.

His comments to the closed committee meeting on IAEA technical aid to member countries were made available to The Associated Press.

The council's main concern is Tehran's uranium enrichment program -- and Iran's defiance of a council demand that it freeze such activities. But the Arak heavy water reactor is also worrying because of its ability to produce plutonium.

A Security Council resolution in July demanded that Iran stop all enrichment-related activities. But it did not specifically mention Arak, saying only that Tehran had to stop all "reprocessing activities."

The EU also urged the board not to approve aid for the Arak project once it moves from its committee meeting to a full session tomorrow.

"Our concern is that such a reactor would in the future produce significant quantities of plutonium and would involve a significant proliferation risk," an EU statement said. "We cannot support providing technical assistance to a heavy water research reactor project that the board has several times asked Iran to reconsider."

Canada and Australia have also urged that help on Arak be denied, said a diplomat coming out of the closed meeting.

In contrast, Russia and China -- the key blockers of tough UN Security Council sanctions on Iran backed by the US and some European allies -- suggested they had no objections to IAEA help on Arak, said the diplomat. Cuba went the farthest, demanding that the board approve the Arak project, she said.

A European diplomat said however, that Cuba -- and Iran itself -- could accept a compromise decision that would defer aid to Arak instead of formal denial of help on the project.

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