U.N. nuclear agency to discuss Iran, South Korea

Thursday, November 25th 2004, 4:33 pm
By: News On 6

VIENNA, Austria (AP) _ Delegates for the U.N. nuclear agency worked to resolve a dispute over Iran's interpretation of a freeze on uranium enrichment as they prepared to deal with another matter _ South Korea and its illicit plutonium and uranium experiments.

Unlike South Korea, the issue of Iran threatened to drag on into the weekend, which would force an extension of the International Atomic Energy Agency board meeting past its planned close Friday.

A report summarizing 18 months of IAEA investigations says the agency remains unable to determine if nearly two decades of Iranian nuclear activities were purely peaceful or if the government had a weapons agenda.

But the main issue is Iran's interpretation of its deal with the European Union to freeze all activities linked to uranium enrichment, which can produce both nuclear fuel and the material for the core of atomic warheads.

Diplomats said Iran continued to demand on Friday that it be allowed to operate some centrifuges _ although the EU says the Nov. 7 deal mandates a suspension of all activities related to enrichment, including running the machines that spin gas into fuel-level or weapons-grade uranium.

One of the delegates, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, described Iran's stance as an attempt at arm twisting to wrest concessions on the language of a resolution on how to police the freeze. Tehran wants any text stripped of indirect allusions to a ``trigger mechanism'' that would enable the board to ask the U.N. Security Council to deal with violations of the suspension pledge.

IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei also suggested the two issues were linked, telling reporters he hoped the Iranians would reconsider ``once they get an agreed resolution.''

``I'm optimistic things are moving in the right direction,'' he said as the meeting reconvened.

Hossein Mousavian, the chief Iranian delegate, told The Associated Press that his country ``is committed to suspension,'' as he headed into a meeting with EU negotiators. Asked about the terms, he said, ``that's what we need to talk about.''

Diplomats said the Americans _ who insist Iran wants to make nuclear weapons _ were unhappy with the draft of the resolution, which makes no direct reference to the possibility of a Security Council referral.

The last-minute Iranian push fed fears that Tehran may not be keen to ease concerns about its nuclear agenda.

Still, Iran's new demands did not signal an immediate danger because thousands of centrifuges must operate for months to produce enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear warhead.

The Europeans say the deal committed Iran to full suspension of enrichment and all related activities while the two sides discuss a pact meant to provide Iran with EU technical and economic aid and other concessions.

The proposed deal also commits Iran to a pledge not to reprocess plutonium _ which it would be able to do in several years time, once it completes work on a heavy water reactor in the city of Arak.

With the EU deal envisaging a light-water reactor for Iran _ from which extraction of weapons-grade nuclear material is difficult _ diplomats said the Europeans hoped that Iran would not complete its heavy water facility.

On the issue of South Korea, delegates said the overwhelming sentiment was to issue a statement of rebuke.

South Korea earlier this year revealed that it conducted two nuclear experiments, in 1982 and 2000, that produced minute amounts of weapons-grade uranium and plutonium, but an IAEA report says there was no evidence they were applied to an arms program.

The delegates from Europe and Asia, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the statement could stop short of letting Seoul off the hook by holding out the implicit threat of being referred to the U.N. Security Council should ongoing IAEA investigations reveal new, serious violations of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

While the IAEA viewed the South Korean violations as ``a matter of serious concern ... we are also saying that we have not seen any continuation of these experiments,'' ElBaradei said at the start of the board meeting Thursday.

Y.J Choi, South Korea's deputy foreign minister, told the board ``mistakes have been made'' but insisted scientists involved in the experiments did not notify the government.