European and U.S. diplomats expressed confidence Thursday that they would win the votes necessary to report concerns about Iran’s nuclear research program to the United Nations Security Council.
With the support of oncereluctant Russia and China, there was little doubt that the International Atomic Energy Agency’s board of governors would approve the resolution. All countries with veto power on the Security Council -- the U.S., Britain, France, Russia and China -- now support the measure.
Diplomats worked into the night to achieve unanimity on the 35-member IAEA board, a stand they said would make the resolution’s message stronger. Syria, Cuba and Venezuela appeared to be inclined to vote no, sources said.
Grigory Berdennikov, the Russian ambassador to the IAEA, restated his nation’s willingness to send a report to the Security Council.
He stressed, however, that the council would take “no action whatsoever” for at least the next month, leaving an opening to resolve the situation within the IAEA. Unlike the Security Council, the IAEA does not have the power to impose penalties.
Mohamed ElBaradei, the director-general of the IAEA, said the resolution should be seen as “very much ... a window of opportunity for Iran” to step back from the brink of outright defiance of the IAEA. “This is a critical stage; this is not a crisis,” he said. “This is about confidence building [by Iran]; it’s not about an imminent threat.”
ElBaradei added, “I am making very clear that the Security Council is not asked at this stage to take any action.”
The Tehran government has threatened to break off all cooperation with the IAEA if it is sent before the Security Council, which can impose sanctions or lesser punitive measures.
The resolution under consideration at the atomic energy agency’s emergency meeting this week in effect gives Iran until the IAEA’s next board meeting, in early March, to meet the agency’s demand for information. Then, ElBaradei will send the Security Council a report on the status of Iran’s compliance.
The countries sponsoring the resolution took a tack similar to ElBaradei’s, pledging to refrain from seeking sanctions against Iran at the Security Council for the time being.
“My government continues to support all efforts to seek a peaceful, diplomatic solution even as we enter a new phase of diplomacy,” said Gregg Schulte, the U.S. ambassador to the IAEA.
“We are not now seeking sanctions or other punitive measures on Iran. We do not seek to harm the Iranian people or deprive Iran of its right to nuclear energy for peaceful purposes,” he added.
Iran’s representatives continued their defiant language, insisting that despite mounting international disapproval, Tehran had a right to enrich uranium at its Natanz facility, which it reopened last month, breaking seals placed on it by the IAEA.
Iran contends that it has been acting in good faith for the last two years, exceeding its legal obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
The Iranian ambassador to the Vienna-based agency, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, accused the United States in his statement to the board Thursday of “a long history of unilateral policy.”
“How could the international community including the Iranian people believe that ... passing the issue to the United Nations Security Council is another way of diplomacy?” he added.
Iran says it now is in compliance with its obligations under the nonproliferation treaty. But suspicions remain about Iran’s intentions, based on the recent discovery that the Tehran government had secretly pursued nuclear technology for 18 years. Iran has been reluctant to respond to inspectors’ questions aimed at determining if the program had weapons implications.
Officials have not given complete answers, nor allowed the IAEA unfettered access to Iran’s research sites or the scientists who worked in them.
In August, Iran restarted its plant at Esfahan, where it conducted advanced chemical processing of uranium. In January, it took a bolder step when it reopened Natanz and announced it would restart research on uranium enrichment, a more complex procedure that can produce fuel-grade or weapons-grade material.
Although no processing has started, according to a report by ElBaradei that was sent to member countries this week, considerable refurbishing of equipment has been completed.
The resolution, which the board is likely to vote on today, states that it “requests the director-general to report to the Security Council” the steps that Iran must take to diminish the international suspicions that it could be seeking the ability to make a nuclear weapon.
The draft expresses “serious concerns about Iran’s nuclear program” and says that there is an “absence of confidence” in Tehran’s assertions that it is only pursuing the ability to create fuel for power plants.