UN sets Iran nuclear deadline, draws Tehran anger
( 2003-09-13 10:04) (Agencies)
The U.N.'s nuclear watchdog set Iran an October 31 deadline on Friday to prove it had no secret atomic weapons program, prompting Tehran to threaten a "deep review" of its cooperation with the agency.
Following intense U.S. pressure for action against Iran, the 35-nation governing board of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) passed a resolution setting the deadline.
Iran's delegation stormed out of the closed-door meeting, accusing Washington of having new invasion plans after Iraq.
The toughly worded resolution gives Iran -- branded by the Washington last year as part of an "axis of evil" with pre-war Iraq and North Korea -- one last chance to prove it has been complying with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
The United States says Tehran has violated the pact 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.
"We will have no choice but to have a deep review of our existing level and extent of engagement with the agency vis a vis this resolution," said Iran's ambassador to the United Nations in Vienna, Ali Akbar Salehi.
His comments came in a written statement he distributed to reporters as he left the IAEA boardroom just before the resolution was passed.
U.S. Ambassador Kenneth Brill warned that any decision by Iran to suspend the IAEA inspection process would be seen as an admission that they were pursuing atomic weapons.
"If they wish to disrupt that (inspection) process, it can only lead the board and indeed the international community to conclude that in fact they are not pursuing a peaceful program," Brill told reporters.
In Washington, a U.S. official told Reuters: "This time we hope there's not going to be a way to escape because this resolution is really tightening the noose on them."
If Iran does not cooperate and is officially declared in non-compliance, "Iran will forfeit its right to share nuclear technology for peaceful purposes" and Russia will not be able to provide critical nuclear fuel for Iran's Bushehr nuclear plant, the official said.
RUSSIA 'SUPPORTS' TOUGH RESOLUTION
A senior Russian official told Reuters in Moscow on condition of anonymity that "both Russia and the IAEA support this new resolution on Iran." "But of course, this resolution does not mean the end of talks with Iran," he added.
Diplomats said Russia's delegation had fiercely opposed the tough resolution during the long negotiations on the wording of the text due to fears that siding with the United States would jeopardize billions of dollars of nuclear deals with Tehran.
Foreign Minister Bill Graham of Canada, which has taken a tough line on Iran even though it had opposed U.S. action on Iraq, said the resolution sent a firm signal to Iran.
"The IAEA's findings are deeply disturbing, and show that Iran's nuclear program is a potentially serious threat to regional and international peace and stability," he said.
IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei told reporters he hoped Iran would not end cooperation with the agency but increase it.
He said the resolution sent "a very powerful message to Iran that they need to cooperate fully and immediately and to show complete transparency."
Inspectors would be heading to Iran within the next few weeks to answer their many outstanding questions about Tehran's nuclear program, ElBaradei said.
"We are going to adopt a very vigorous approach, a very intensive approach to try to complete our work," he added.
Iranian Ambassador Salehi insisted that Iran "is a fervent subscriber to the NPT, a loyal party to it and a staunch promoter of the Middle East as a nuclear-free zone."
After the U.S.-led war on Iraq, Salehi said that it was clear the administration of President Bush "entertains the idea of invasion of yet another territory, as they aim to re-engineer and reshape the entire Middle East."
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