The United States and three key European countries moved closer to an agreement Tuesday to condemn Iran for concealing nuclear activities but praise it for opening its doors to international inspectors, diplomats here said.
The compromise language was reached in negotiations among representatives of the U.S., Britain, France and Germany in advance of a meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s governing board.
The agreement could still fall apart. Diplomats said the draft resolution was sent to the capitals of the four countries for approval before being submitted this week to the board of the IAEA, the U.N. atomic watchdog agency.
Meanwhile, efforts to win approval of a resolution praising Libya for voluntarily abandoning its nuclear weapons program hit a snag Tuesday when Egypt proposed a provision that would declare the Middle East a “nuclear free” zone, said a senior Western diplomat involved in the talks.
U.S. negotiators, apparently concerned that the provision might increase pressure on Israel to relinquish its nuclear weapons, argued that Libya was not technically part of the Middle East, the diplomat said.
But the most contentious debate centered on Iran. Washington is convinced that Iran is covering up a nuclear weapons program and that its cooperation with the IAEA has been only grudging.
Tehran denies that it is pursuing an atomic weapon and says that it is in full compliance with its disclosure obligations.
The U.S. wants the IAEA’s 35-member board to approve a resolution containing tough language criticizing Iran to pressure Tehran to cooperate more fully with the agency’s inspectors.
A draft resolution prepared by the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand that was provided to The Times called on the IAEA to “deplore” Iran’s failure to disclose everything about its nuclear program and suggested that the matter could later be referred to the U.N. Security Council.
That draft was provided to the Iranian delegation Monday as a warning that it faced harsh action, a diplomat in Vienna said.
But diplomats said the U.S. hard line would meet strong opposition from Europeans as well as members of the nonaligned movement within the governing board that could torpedo efforts to pass a resolution.
The Europeans objected to some of the harsh tone and wanted to focus on Iran’s cooperation with the IAEA inspections and its agreement to permit more intrusive inspections. They have consistently argued for keeping negotiations open with Tehran.
In Washington on Tuesday, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell signaled a more balanced approach than previously, saying, “Iran has made some positive steps, but there’s a lot more they have to do.”
Diplomats said the U.S. agreed to tone down two specific criticisms in exchange for broader support, but that the text remained essentially unchanged.
The compromise version puts off a decision until June on whether to recommend steps against Iran and contrasts Tehran’s limited cooperation with the IAEA to Libya’s voluntary abandonment of its nuclear weapons program in December.
Although the resolution has yet to be submitted to the governing board, diplomats said approval was likely by the week’s end if the agreement among the U.S., Britain, France and Germany held up.
Iran says it is in full compliance with the IAEA and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. It is expected to object to portions of the resolution, particularly the unfavorable comparison to Libya.
“Libya has officially announced that it was pursuing nuclear weapons, and this is a violation of the NPT,” Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi told his nation’s official IRNA news agency Tuesday. “But Iran has not been pursuing nuclear weapons and not violated the NPT.”
In contrast to its position on Iran, the U.S. supported a resolution praising Libya for giving up its nuclear weapons program last year and turning over technology and designs to the U.S. and Britain.
A draft of the acknowledged that Libya’s long concealment of a nuclear program violated its treaty obligations and should be referred to the Security Council. But it called for the U.N. to commend Libya, rather than impose sanctions.
“The contrast with Iran couldn’t be starker,” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said in Washington.
But the Egyptian proposal delayed approval of the draft, and talks were to continue today.
Staff writer Sonni Efron in Washington contributed to this report.