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Allies line up with US to set Iran nuke deadline
( 2003-09-12 14:00) (Agencies)

The United States has gathered more than two dozen allies to force the U.N. nuclear watchdog to set an October 31 deadline for Iran to demonstrate it is not secretly developing nuclear weapons, diplomats said.

Iran's representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency(IAEA), Ali Akbar Salehi, answers journalists' questions after a closed-door session of the board of governors in the Vienna headquarters September 9, 2003. The U.S. and more than a dozen allies pushed the U.N. nuclear watchdog on Wednesday to back a resolution that would give Tehran until October 31 to prove it has no clandestine nuclear weapons program. [Reuters]
The 35-nation Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is expected to vote on a toughly worded draft resolution which gives Iran a last chance to prove it has been complying with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), at Friday's closed-door board session.

The United States says Tehran has violated the treaty in its effort to develop atomic weapons secretly. Iran, which denies the allegation, could face economic sanctions if reported to the U.N. Security Council for breach of its NPT obligations.

Washington had originally lobbied for the board to report Iran to the council this week, but backed off when it saw the majority of board members wanted to give Iran one last chance and a deadline to prove it had been complying with the NPT.

Several diplomats said days of behind-the-scenes negotiations, led by France and Germany -- Washington's opponents in its failed attempt to force the U.N. Security Council to back the Iraq war -- brought nearly 30 nations behind an ultimatum for Iran to come clean about its nuclear plans.

Tehran's ambassador to the IAEA, Ali Akbar Salehi, told reporters repeatedly on the sidelines of the week-long board session that his country would not accept any deadlines.

"You can't impose deadlines on a sovereign country," he said.

Iran's Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi even threatened to "review" cooperation with the IAEA if the resolution passed.

A Western diplomat said Washington had wanted as many countries as possible to back the resolution, because if the board appeared split, Iran would use that as an excuse to ignore any deadline or other demands.


Supporters of the resolution tried hard to bring Russia on board, but the most they were able to get was a pledge not to vote against it, diplomats said.

Russia, like China, is expected to abstain from the vote.

A Russian atomic energy ministry official told Reuters in Moscow that Russia did not want to unduly provoke Tehran.

"Iran has to be given room to maneuvere so that it is not pushed into a corner like North Korea and withdraws from the (NPT)," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

But a Western diplomat close to the talks with Russia said the real reason Moscow opposed a tough resolution was fear it might harm Russia's nearly $1 billion deal with Iran to construct a nuclear power plant at Bushehr, a project carrying some 20,000 Russian jobs.

"They (Russia) don't want their customer to go out of business," the diplomat said.

Russia does not like the demand in the resolution for Iran to stop enriching uranium or its implied threat that Tehran must enable the IAEA to come to a "definitive" conclusion on Tehran's nuclear plans by November or go to the Security Council for possible sanctions.

In an August 26 report, the IAEA said it had found traces of weapons-grade highly enriched uranium at an enrichment facility at Natanz, Iran, sparking fears the country had been purifying uranium for use in an atomic bomb.

Iran denied the charge and said the enriched uranium was on machinery that was "contaminated" when Tehran purchased it abroad on the black market in the 1980s. The explanation has met with skepticism inside and outside the IAEA.

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