Europe expressed renewed concern about Iran’s nuclear agenda today as the International Atomic Energy Agency’s 35-nation board focused on Tehran’s refusal to freeze uranium enrichment and fully cooperate with an IAEA investigation.
The Vienna meeting began with Iran and key nations which oppose its enrichment plans sticking to their positions, reflecting deadlock that has led the IAEA board to call on the UN Security Council to get involved.
Austria, which holds the EU presidency, expressed regret at Iran’s decisions to withhold “voluntary cooperation” from IAEA inspectors probing 21 years of Iranian nuclear activity – including 18 years of clandestine work and resuming uranium enrichment, which can be part of a process to make nuclear weapons.
The Austrian comments were made in a statement prepared for delivery on behalf of the European Union and nearly a dozen non-member European nations.
The statement also expressed concern that the IAEA investigations had not been able to banish suspicions that Iran’s nuclear programme goes beyond peaceful aims. And it called on Iran “to reverse its policy”.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was defiant: “Our nation has made its decision to fully use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes and all have to give in to this decision made by the Iranian nation,” he said. “We have made our choice.”
His comments – and US and Russian statements rejecting any compromise that would allow Tehran to enrich uranium domestically – set the stage for Security Council action once the IAEA board meeting hears a report on the latest investigations into Iran’s nuclear programme and debates the issue.
Washington warned yesterday of “meaningful consequences” if Iran does not back away from an international confrontation over its nuclear programme. It also rejected any potential last-minute compromise to allow Iran to develop nuclear fuel that could be used for weapons.
However Russia and China, which have Security Council vetoes, may use them to foil any resolution in that chamber that would meaningfully increase pressure on Iran, their political and economic ally.
A Russian plan that surfaced last year and is backed by the Americans and the European Union, would strip the Iranians of all enrichment potential at home in hopes that would prevent the programme from being misused for nuclear arms.
A Russian idea to allow Iran to conduct “research and development” activities – including operating 20 uranium-enriching centrifuges – appeared dead in the water by yesterday due to strong American opposition and Iranian rejection.
A senior diplomat accredited to the Vienna meeting suggested that a compromise may still be reached, saying South Africa, a strong backer of Iran’s right to enrich for peaceful purposes, was increasingly involved in trying to find a negotiated solution.
Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing also appealed for more negotiations, suggesting the Security Council’s involvement was not needed. “Iran should cooperate closely with the IAEA to settle the nuclear dispute,” Li said.
Talks between Iran and France, Britain and Germany collapsed last year after Tehran resumed enrichment-related activities, which can produce both nuclear fuel and the fissile core of warheads.