Iran gets off with a slap…for now


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

November 21, 2006

Diplomats Favor Denying Iran Request
Filed at 4:06 p.m. ET

VIENNA, Austria (AP) -- Iran's call for help in building a plutonium-producing 
reactor appeared headed for rejection, with diplomats at a 35-nation meeting of 
the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency saying Tuesday that many of Tehran's 
traditional allies favored denying the request.

The diplomats -- all participating in an International Atomic Energy Agency 
committee meeting -- said there was majority support for approving IAEA aid on 
seven other Iranian projects, but for refusing help on the eighth: the 
construction of the Arak reactor that will produce plutonium, a possible pathway
to nuclear arms.

The United States was a chief supporter of that approach. ''There was a certain 
pragmatism that we weren't going to win on the other ones,'' a U.S. official 
told The Associated Press, explaining why Washington did not push for a ban on 
all eight Iran aid requests.

Some diplomats accredited to the meeting also suggested a parallel U.S. decision
to tread lightly while Washington considers seeking direct dialogue with Tehran 
on reducing Iraq violence. The U.S. official, who demanded anonymity because he 
was not authorized to comment publicly on the issue -- said: ''I would not 
discount that as a factor.''

The decision on IAEA technical aid to Iran was to be made formally Thursday, 
once the committee looking at hundreds of aid requests from member countries 
ends its work and the full board meeting begins. The chairman of that meeting 
will likely announce approval of all the Iranian projects except for Arak, four 
diplomats said, speaking independently and also asking for anonymity because 
they were not authorized to discuss the closed meeting.

The diplomats emphasized that the agreement was tentative. But they said it was 
the most likely scenario for resolving differences over the issue.

With the U.N. Security Council stalemated on the severity of sanctions on Iran 
for defying its demand to cease uranium enrichment, the focus has shifted to the
board, which in February referred Iran to the council, suggesting it had 
breached the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and might be trying to make nuclear

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, whose country is the chief opponent of 
strong U.N. sanctions, nonetheless admonished Iran for not cooperating with an 
IAEA investigation into its nuclear activities.

''We would like every blank spot uncovered by the IAEA in the Iranian nuclear 
program to be clarified,'' Lavrov told the ITAR-Tass and RIA-Novosti news 

Highly enriched uranium and reprocessed plutonium both can be used for the 
fissile core of nuclear warheads, even though Iran insists it wants to enrich to
lower levels used to generate power and seeks to build the Arak reactor only to 
produce radioactive isotopes for medical use.

Regardless of the decision on Iran's aid request for Arak, construction of the 
reactor was expected to be finished in the next decade, and could produce enough
plutonium for about two bombs a year. Rebuffing Iran's Arak request would also 
have no effect on Iran's uranium enrichment.

Still, it would maintain at least symbolic pressure during the Security Council 

As the U.S. and its allies lobbied against approval of the Arak aid request, 
Iran's chief delegate Ali Ashgar Soltanieh accused opposing nations of 
''imposing their politically motivated and discriminatory policies'' on the 

The agency routinely approves hundreds of technical aid projects each year, most
of them dealing with nuclear medicine, agricultural pest prevention and similar 
programs with no obvious link to atomic arms.

But fears that Tehran might be seeking to develop an arms program turned this 
year's technical aid committee meeting into a heavily politicized event, dooming
the Arak request, even though it was nothing more than helping to make sure the 
reactor will be environmentally safe.

The other seven projects are less controversial.

One asks for help in developing nuclear capabilities for medical use. Another 
seeks legal aid for the Russian-built Bushehr reactor, which even the Americans 
have accepted as not posing a threat of nuclear proliferation. The five others 
request assistance in administrative or safety aspects of nuclear power.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press

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