New draft on Iran submitted to nuclear watchdog

European nations formally submitted a new draft to the International Atomic Energy Agency’s 35-nation board today on referring Iran to the UN Security Council, setting up a decision later in the day.

A copy of the confidential draft links the decision to ask for Tehran’s referral to the country’s breaches of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, and lack of confidence that it is not trying to make weapons.

The resolution expresses “serious concerns about Iran’s nuclear programme”.

It recalls “Iran’s many failures and breaches of its obligations” to the non-proliferation treaty. And it expresses “the absence of confidence that Iran’s nuclear program is exclusively for peaceful purposes”.

It requests IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei to “report to the Security Council” steps Iran needs to take to dispel suspicions about its nuclear ambitions.

The resolution calls on Iran to:

:: Re-establish a freeze on uranium enrichment and related activities.

:: Consider whether to stop construction of a heavy water reactor that could be the source of plutonium for weapons.

:: Formally ratify an agreement allowing the IAEA greater inspecting authority and continue honouring the agreement before it is ratified.

:: Give the IAEA additional power in its investigation of Iran’s nuclear program, including “access to individuals” for interviews, as well as to documentation on its black-market nuclear purchases, equipment that could be used for nuclear and non-nuclear purposes and “certain military-owned workshops” where nuclear activities might be going on.

The draft also asks Mohamed ElBaradei to “convey … to the Security Council” his report to the next board session in March along with any resolution that meeting might approve.

The move came after Washington compromised on a US-Egyptian dispute over linking fears about Tehran’s atomic program to a Middle East nuclear-free zone - and indirectly to Israel. Diplomats said the Americans accepted mention of such a zone in the draft late in the night.

A majority of board members back referral, but possible delay had loomed after US and Egypt tangled over linking the issue to long-standing Arab demands that Israel – generally considered a nuclear power – give up such arms.

Diplomats familiar with the issue said France, Britain and Germany – the three European nations formally submitting the US-backed draft resolution calling for referral – had mediated between Cairo and Washington.

The diplomats said US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Egyptian counterpart Ahmed Aboul Gheit also had been involved in trying to iron out language acceptable to both sides.

A Western diplomat at the meeting said the US felt strongly about not linking its ally Israel to nuclear concerns in the Middle East when it considers Iran the real threat in the region. But the Americans agreed in the face of overwhelming support for inclusion of such a clause from its European allies spearheading the resolution.

Egypt, whose support of the resolution is key to swaying other Arab board members to join in backing it, was looking to make the linkage to satisfy broad domestic concerns, a senior European diplomat said.

Support for Iran at the meeting in Vienna appeared to be limited as the clock ticked down on the issue of referral. Cuba, Venezuela, Syria and a few other countries represented at the IAEA board meeting remained opposed. India was said to be leaning toward supporting referral.

Diplomats said support for Iran had shrunk among board members since Russia and China swung their support behind referral at a meeting with the US, France and Britain – the other three permanent council members – earlier in the week.

ElBaradei has stressed that even if the issue is referred, the Security Council would not take up the issue before next month – a condition attached by Russia and China in exchange for their support.

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