U.S. Softens Its Rebuke on Iran Nuclear Issue, Appeasing Allies

Posted in Iran | 10-Mar-04 | Author: Craig Smith| Source: The New York Times

VIENNA, March 9 — The United States agreed Tuesday to tone down its criticism of Iran in order to win European support for a demand that Tehran divulge more about its nuclear program, according to European diplomats here.

Washington dropped threatening language from a draft resolution being prepared at a meeting of the board of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations' nuclear watchdog, and agreed to insert a paragraph praising Iran's cooperation so far. The board's 10 European members signed off Tuesday on the revised draft, and the United States will present it to remaining board members on Wednesday.

The resolution, which board members are expected to approve later this week, will be the third on Iran issued by the agency since the country was discovered last year to have a far more extensive nuclear program than was previously known. And it will be the second in which the United States has agreed to a weaker rebuke against Iran than it would like because of European fears of alienating the country.

Last November, the United States dropped its demand that an agency resolution threaten Security Council action if Iran again failed to disclose details of its nuclear program, which Tehran insists is for purely peaceful uses.

The resolution instead said that if any further serious failures came to light, the board would "consider all options at its disposal." The United States repeated that language in its initial draft this time but agreed Tuesday to remove the threat in favor of a simple reference to the previous resolutions.

The debate carries unsettling echoes of the controversy that preceded the war with Iraq, when European allies argued to give Iraq more time to prove it had no weapons of mass destruction. In Iran's case, France, Germany and Britain reached an agreement with Iran last year under which Iran would suspend its uranium enrichment program in return for easier access to technology and trade.

The Associated Press reported Tuesday that John R. Bolton, a United States under secretary of state, complained in a letter to the French, German and British governments that their stance was hurting the effort to get Iran to comply with its promises for full nuclear disclosure.

Iran gave the energy agency a detailed account of its nuclear program in October. But the country was later found to possess a more advanced design for uranium enriching centrifuges than it had declared, as well as other undisclosed equipment and plans.

The most pressing question remaining is the origin of traces of highly enriched uranium found on some of the equipment in Iran. Iran told the agency that the traces were on the equipment when it arrived in the country, and that since it had been bought through various middlemen, there was no way to identify its source.

But it is possible that Iran enriched the uranium itself, which would constitute clear evidence of Iran's intent to develop nuclear weapons and represent a major breach of its commitments to the agency.

The draft resolution calls for Mohamed ElBaradei, the director of the energy agency, to report on Iran's progress in May before its next board of governor's meeting in June, deferring the question of how to respond to Iran's omissions in its October declaration until June.