Western states defeated an Iranian proposal at the UN nuclear agency’s annual assembly yesterday to amend their draft resolution on a policy area central to its work in preventing the spread of atom bombs.
The draft text was adopted in a vote shortly after midnight after days of closed-door negotiations failed to achieve the traditional consensus, with divisions between a small number of countries led by Iran and a much larger Western-dominated group.
Diplomats said Iran and Egypt had wanted to include language in the resolution suggesting the UN agency should have a role also in nuclear disarmament, apparently reflecting frustration on their part at the lack of faster progress on this issue.
This was opposed by a large majority including the US, Britain, France and Russia — four officially recognized nuclear weapon states — which believe the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is not the right forum, they said.
The West accuses Iran of trying to develop a nuclear weapons capability in secret. The Islamic Republic denies the charge.
Tehran often hits out at the US over its atomic arsenal and also criticises Iran’s archfoe, Israel, and that country’s assumed nuclear weapons.
The annual General Conference of the 155 IAEA member states traditionally adopts several resolutions, setting out general and often vaguely worded policy aspirations and guidelines, during a week-long meeting in Vienna.
Like last year, the most contentious issue was a text regarding the IAEA’s activities in seeking to make sure nuclear material is not diverted for non-peaceful purposes, a crucial task for the UN agency under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
Last year, the gathering failed to agree the resolution on “strengthening the effectiveness and improving the efficiency of the safeguards system” submitted by 30 Western states.
Safeguards refer to measures undertaken by UN inspectors to discover any attempt by non-nuclear weapons states to use atomic technology or material for developing weapons — for example regular visits and camera surveillance of sites.
This year, Iran said a paragraph saying IAEA “safeguards are a fundamental component of nuclear non-proliferation” should be amended to add “and nuclear disarmament.” This was rejected by 55 votes against and nine for. The resolution then passed by 89 for, no vote against and 16 abstentions, including Iran.
Several countries, including South Africa and Brazil, stressed their support for nuclear disarmament even though they voted against the Iranian proposal.
Under the NPT, a 1970 pact, the five recognized atomic bomb “haves” agreed to work toward eliminating their nuclear weapons, and the “have-nots” pledged not to pursue them.
Critics say there has been more emphasis on meeting the non-proliferation goal than getting the five major powers — the US, China, Russia, France and Britain — to fulfil their part of the deal.
In related developments, the IAEA passed a resolution by consensus on Friday that “strongly urged” North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program, underlining Pyongyang’s international isolation.
The text adopted without a vote by the agency also called on North Korea, which is not a member of the Vienna-based UN grouping, not to carry out a new nuclear test.
The IAEA conference “stresses its desire for a diplomatic resolution of the [North Korea] nuclear issue so as to achieve the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” it said.