www.chron.com/cs/CDA/ssistory.mpl/world/2240235US accuses Iran of trying to make nuclear weapons. Great - nukes in the hands of Muslim Arabs.
Nov. 21, 2003, 8:35AM
U.S. accuses Iran of trying to make nuclear weapons
VIENNA, Austria -- The United States accused Iran of trying to make nuclear arms, in harsh comments today at an U.N atomic agency meeting that reflected the split between Washington and key European nations over how far to go in censuring Tehran for past activities.
Unable to bridge that rift, delegates at a board of governors' meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency decided to adjourn until next week in hopes of finding a compromise.
IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said the meeting would reconvene Wednesday, after adjourning later Friday following delegates' speeches.
The break would be a chance for high-level negotiations to continue in the capitals of the 35 board members, she said.
The move followed a failure by IAEA delegates to reconcile U.S. wishes for strong censure of Iran's past covert nuclear activities and European hopes of encouraging Tehran's newfound openness by refraining from overtly harsh language or any formulation that would result in Security Council involvement.
Addressing delegates, U.S. Ambassador Kenneth Brill assailed Iran for 18 years of "violations and lies," including enriching uranium, processing small amounts of plutonium and other activities that Washington says point to a weapons agenda.
"Iran systematically and deliberately deceived the IAEA and the international community about these issues for year after year after year," he said. The purpose, he said, was "the pursuit of nuclear weapons."
Such conduct by Iran "constitutes noncompliance with its safeguards obligations," Brill said, in language that indirectly accused Tehran of violating the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty -- an act that normally results in Security Council involvement.
In comments that provoked an unusually sharp response from IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei, Brill suggested a statement in ElBaradei's report on Iran was "questionable" in saying there was no "evidence" it had tried to build nuclear weapons.
Brill said that no "proof" would have been the proper phrase.
ElBaradei dismissed the argument as "disingenuous," according to diplomats at the meeting. "In our dictionary, 'evidence' is the same as 'proof,'" he said.
Fleming said Elbaradei "takes issue with the U.S. accusation that the agency has threatened its credibility," adding: "We believe that we are impartial and credible and that actually our credibility has been enhanced."
Earlier, Iran submitted a letter to the board agreeing to open its nuclear programs to pervasive spot inspections, giving up attempts to wait until it saw the text of the resolution and approved its language.
But diplomats, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Iran continued to insist it had the right to withdraw its promise to accept such inspections if the resolution made reference to Security Council involvement or contained other language it found unacceptable.
Such a move, however, would almost guarantee a strong resolution that might even meet U.S. wishes to have Iran declared in violation of safeguard agreements -- triggering possible Security Council involvement.
Asked what links there were between a soft resolution and his country's acceptance of wider inspections as well as its decision to suspend uranium enrichment -- both of which are board demands -- chief Iranian delegate Ali Akbar Salehi said: "They all go together."
Salehi suggested the United States was isolated in the board.
"We think that the American delegation -- or the U.S. as a whole -- is sort of a hostage to its own accusations," he told reporters. "And I think the majority of the board are looking forward to see that this ... is resolved peacefully."
He suggested that Germany, France and Britain -- the chief backers of a relatively soft resolution -- had pledged to keep the issue from going to the Security Council if Iran continued to cooperate with agency efforts to probe its nuclear past and present.
"It's not only a promise on their side; this is a promise of every thoughtful, wise and prudent member of the board," he said.
Before the discussion moved to the board members' capitals, a draft discussed in Vienna and quoted to The Associated Press by a senior diplomat would have given the board the right to call an emergency session immediately should any evidence surface that Iran was guilty of "significant failures."
ElBaradei has said he wants a strongly worded report that nonetheless stops short of asking for Security Council involvement.
Determining whether Iran tried to build nuclear weapons "will take some time and much verification effort," ElBaradei told the board.
On Thursday, diplomats speaking on condition of anonymity said the IAEA identified Russia, China and Pakistan as probable sources for equipment used by Iran for possible nuclear weapons development. They gave no other details.
Identification of some of Iran's nuclear suppliers brings the agency closer to solving the puzzle over its past activities, which the Americans and others say point to a weapons agenda.
While acknowledging that some of its enrichment centrifuges had traces of weapons-grade highly enriched uranium, Iran insists its enrichment program was low-level and only for power generation. It asserts the high-level traces were inadvertently imported on material it purchased abroad.