Iran Refuses To Budge At Vienna Nuclear Conference

Friday, May 4th 2007, 6:59 am
By: News On 6

VIENNA, Austria (AP) _ A standoff pitting Iran against most others delegations at a 130-nation nuclear conference deepened Friday, with organizers adjourning the third straight session in as many days without breaking a deadlock over the language of the meeting's agenda.

At issue is Tehran's refusal to accept a phrase calling for the ``need for full compliance with'' the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

That position has delayed adoption of the agenda since the conference opened Monday. Tehran argues the language could lead it to become a target at the meeting because of its refusal to heed U.N. Security Council demands to cease uranium enrichment and other parts of its nuclear program that could be misused to make nuclear weapons.

In a move to placate Iran, conference chairman Yukiya Amano of Japan _ who drew up the agenda _ told the meeting his intention was to make clear in the text that ``compliance with the treaty is compliance with all provisions of the treaty'' _ an allusion to commitments by nuclear weapons states to disarm.

Still, the fact that he immediately adjourned the session until late afternoon reflected the continued need for back-room negotiations meant to find a common position that would allow the meeting to begin taking up substantive issues.

And Amano said he would not reopen the agenda text for revision, a move that would likely harden Iran's stance at the meeting.

Iran has said it is determined to expand its disputed nuclear program and further defy U.N. demands that it freeze all preparations for enrichment, a potential pathway to nuclear arms.

Before Friday's brief noon session, diplomats familiar with Iran's nuclear program said Tehran had recently set up more centrifuges at its underground uranium enrichment plant at Natanz, bringing the number of machines ready to spin uranium gas into enriched form to more than 1,600.

The diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment on internal conference matters to the media.

An International Atomic Energy Agency document obtained last month said the Islamic regime was running more than 1,300 centrifuge machines to enrich uranium at its Natanz facility.

Its ultimate goal is to have 50,000 centrifuges. That would be enough to supply fuel for what Tehran says is a planned network of atomic reactors to generate electricity _ or material for a full-scale nuclear weapons program.

The expansion of Iran's enrichment program is also linked to the main issue of contention at the Vienna conference.

The delays led to growing pessimism about how much the meeting could accomplish before its scheduled end on May 11. Several delegates suggested that if the dispute remains unresolved by early next week, the conference could be dissolved.

Rebecca E. Johnson, of the Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy in London, said the standoff evoked memories of the 2005 Nonproliferation Treaty review conference which failed to make substantive progress because of similar bickering over procedural issues.

``The only people who will take heart from a disaster here will be those who seek to weaken the nonproliferation regime, either by wanting to get the next generation of nuclear weapons or ... who want to develop their own nuclear programs,'' she said in an indirect swipe both at the atomic arms states and Iran.

Iran maintains that its nuclear activities _ including its enrichment program _ comply with the treaty. However, its objections to the agenda language suggest it may be worried that emphasis on compliance with the treaty could be used against it in discussions at the conference.

Comments by Iranian chief delegate Ali Ashgar Soltanieh outside the conference appeared to support that view. Soltanieh told The Associated Press that his country was ready to drop its objections if the statement on compliance was expanded to specify that it also applied to disarmament by nations with nuclear weapons.

Several diplomats said Tehran had not formally submitted any proposed amendment. They suggested the Islamic republic was interested mostly in blocking the meeting out of concerns that it would be called to task for its defiance of U.N. demands that it freeze enrichment.

Those diplomats also spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment on conference matters.

The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty calls on nations to pledge not to pursue nuclear weapons in exchange for a commitment by five nuclear powers _ the U.S., Russia, Britain, France and China _ to move toward nuclear disarmament. India and Pakistan, known nuclear weapons states, remain outside the treaty, as does Israel, which is considered to have such arms but has not acknowledged it.