IAEA board votes to censure Iran
Russia and China joined the United States and its European allies on Friday in formally rebuking Iran over its nuclear program at a meeting of the United Nations nuclear technology watchdog.
By a 25-to-3 vote, with seven abstentions or absences, the board of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, adopted a German-drafted resolution condemning Iran’s nuclear program. The measure also called on Tehran to halt enrichment of uranium, resolve lingering questions about its past nuclear activities, open its nuclear facilities to further inspection and provide assurances it is not operating secret atomic research and development sites.
U.S. officials said Friday that construction has continued at one nuclear site near the Iranian city of Qom, a facility that CIA analysts have concluded would be too small to be of use in supplying nuclear energy but capable of producing enough enriched uranium to arm one nuclear warhead each year.
The project “raises obvious concerns, ones that the international community has voiced in no uncertain terms to Tehran,” said a U.S. counter-terrorism official who requested anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the issue.
Friday’s vote was the first time the 35-member IAEA board has taken formal action against Iran since February 2006. It was triggered by Tehran’s admission in September that it was building the previously undisclosed enrichment facility inside a heavily protected mountain near Qom.
Although Moscow and Beijing joined the push for the resolution, they have in the past been reluctant to cooperate in what might be the next step: approving tough sanctions at the U.N. Security Council, where both wield veto power. Friday’s censure measure did not threaten any immediate action. Russia and China have significant trade ties with Iran.
The Islamic Republic reacted vehemently to the censure, threatening to cancel unspecified “voluntary” cooperation with international inspectors.
But both Iran and the West left the door open to further negotiations. The U.S. envoy to the IAEA said the censure was not “punitive” but signaled frustration with Tehran. The U.S. remains ready “to engage Iran to work toward a diplomatic solution to the nuclear dilemma it has created for itself, if only Iran would choose such a course,” Ambassador Glyn Davies said in a statement.
His Iranian counterparts, though condemning the resolution, ruled out the possibility of withdrawing from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and barring inspectors from the nation’s nuclear facilities.
Iran acknowledged the Qom site two months ago in a cryptic letter that was sent to the IAEA after it had become clear that the Obama administration was aware of the compound and poised to expose the secret at the outset of negotiations with Tehran.
“Since the Qom site was publicly revealed,” said the counter-terrorism official, “the Iranian government has repeated what is for them a familiar pattern: commit to share information and then find ways of delaying and deflecting.”
Iran and much of the international community are at odds over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear research program, which Tehran contends is solely for civilian purposes but its adversaries suspect is meant to eventually produce weapons.
The Obama administration has sought to reach out diplomatically to Tehran as a way to overcome three decades of hostility and mistrust and resolve the standoff between the two governments.
U.S. officials have told Western allies that the administration wants to wait until the end of the year before pushing for new sanctions against Iran.
But Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, said in a statement Friday that the “overwhelming” IAEA vote on Iran reflected a “growing international deficit of confidence in its intentions.”
He warned that “if Iran refuses to meet its obligations, then it will be responsible for its own growing isolation and the consequences.”
A senior administration official told reporters that “we’re committed to putting together a package of consequences if we don’t find a willing partner.”
Diplomats have been disappointed by Tehran’s failure to respond definitively to a U.N.-backed proposal to swap Iran’s enriched uranium for nuclear fuel rods needed to operate a Tehran medical research reactor. Iran says it wants more guarantees before it signs on to the deal, and dismissed the censure as an attempt to strong-arm the country into giving up its rights.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast described the resolution as “a formal, showy and purposeful gesture, aimed at exerting pressure” on Iran, according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency.
“Such behaviors are [in] vain,” he said.
Tehran’s envoy to the Vienna-based U.N. agency accused Western powers of having a “hidden agenda” in promoting the censure, which followed strong words a day earlier by the agency’s outgoing chief, Mohamed ElBaradei, who said Iran had not met its international legal obligations.
“Do you have any doubt that this resolution is destructive?” Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran’s envoy to the IAEA, asked reporters. “It is not helpful. It destroyed the existing conducive environment.”
Davies, the U.S. envoy, said Friday’s measure was designed to persuade Iran to accept the fuel swap proposal.
“What you will get from me is a signal, and this is the signal that I sent in the boardroom: that patience is running out,” he told reporters. “We can’t continue talk for talk’s sake. We can’t have round after round of fruitless negotiations, circular negotiations that don’t get us where we need to get.”
In recent months, Iran has launched a diplomatic offensive, hoping to curry favor with developing countries. But only Cuba, Venezuela and Malaysia voted Friday to support Iran. Other Muslim and developing countries -- Turkey, Pakistan, Egypt, Afghanistan, South Africa, Brazil and Azerbaijan -- abstained or were absent from the voting. Their non-votes probably were a disappointment to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who arrived home Friday after a five-day trip to Africa and Latin America.
“A new movement has started to free the world from domination of a few bullying states,” Ahmadinejad told reporters Friday. “Signs and evidence show that a few domineering governments have not been able to solve problems and address public demand.”
Israel, believed to be the Mideast’s sole nuclear-armed nation, though it has never formally acknowledged possessing such weapons, praised the rebuke of Tehran’s nuclear program and called for further action if Iran refused to bend.
“The international community . . . must ensure that this resolution has practical implications by determining binding schedules for its implementation and weighty sanctions against Iran if this resolution is violated as well,” said an official statement posted on Israel’s Foreign Ministry website.
Special correspondent Julia Damianova in Vienna and Paul Richter in the Washington bureau contributed to this report.