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US seeking consensus approach with allies on Iran
( 2003-11-13 09:07) (Agencies)

A U.N. watchdog agency's finding that there is no evidence Iran has a nuclear weapons program is "impossible to believe," U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton said on Wednesday.

In the first official U.S. reaction to the report of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Bolton said the report actually reaffirms the U.S. belief that "the massive and covert Iranian effort to acquire sensitive nuclear capabilities make sense only as part of a nuclear weapons program."

Iranian President Mohammad Khatami speaks to journalists after a cabinet meeting in Tehran Nov.12, 2003. Arms experts said on Wednesday a U.N. nuclear watchdog report on Iran supported U.S. claims Tehran had a secret atomic weapons program, but Khatami insisted its nuclear policy was purely peaceful.   [Reuters]
Although the IAEA extensively documented Iran's denials and deceptions over an 18-year period and listed numerous Iranian violations of international nuclear commitments, "the report nonetheless concluded that no evidence had been found of an Iranian nuclear weapons program," he said.

"The report's assertion is simply impossible to believe," said Bolton, the Bush administration's chief official in charge of arms control and non-proliferation policy.

The IAEA in a report circulated on Monday said Iran had a centrifuge uranium enrichment program for 18 years and a high-tech laser enrichment program for 12 years, both hidden from the United Nations.

It also said Iran produced small amounts of plutonium, usable in a bomb and with virtually no civilian uses, and conducted secret tests of enrichment centrifuges using nuclear material.

Despite Iran's secretiveness and the activities possibly associated with weapons, the IAEA said there was no proof to date of an arms program. Iran has always denied the charge.


Bolton, at a dinner for the American Spectator magazine, said the IAEA's research established that "Iran is in violation, in multiple instances, of its safeguards obligations under the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT)."

He did not outline what actions Washington would seek to take next week when the IAEA board of governors meets in Vienna to discuss what to do about the Iranian program.

But other officials said the administration is seeking a compromise that would hold Iran to account for its nuclear activities yet avoid a fresh clash with European allies.

Key U.S. officials still believe the IAEA should formally find Iran in non-compliance with the NPT and refer the matter to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions.

But they realize that because of a British-French-German agreement with Tehran this is unlikely and are looking for some kind of middle ground, one senior U.S. official told Reuters.

"Let's face it. A resolution of non-compliance is not going to happen. The question is, is there some fallback that the three European countries can live with," he said.

Experts say how the United States and its allies deal with Iran's nuclear programs is being watched closely by North Korea and other nations with nuclear ambitions and will have a major impact on the ability to restrain proliferation.

Aiming to avoid a crisis, Britain, France and Germany last month launched an initiative that resulted in Iran agreeing to temporarily suspend its uranium enrichment program and sign a protocol committing to snap nuclear inspections.


The three countries, playing "good cop" to Washington's "bad cop," recognized Iran's right to develop a nuclear energy program and held out the prospect of future technical help.

They want to focus on encouraging Iran's future compliance with its nuclear obligations and worry "if we come down hard, Iran will renege on the whole thing," a U.S. official said.

The administration is considering whether there is some action the IAEA board could take "that is less than a formal resolution of non-compliance but would still draw the attention of the security council -- maybe an information memo or a letter" of some kind, the U.S. official said.

Bolton said if Iran takes all the steps demanded, like allowing snap inspections, this would be a "major advance toward its integration into civilized society."

But if Iran continues to conceal its program, it must be declared in noncompliance with IAEA safeguards obligations, he said, a move that would make Iran subject to U.N. sanctions.

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