Iran Shrugs Off U.N. Pressure

Thursday, March 8th 2007, 5:32 am
By: News On 6

VIENNA, Austria (AP) _ Iran on Thursday shrugged off the latest punitive U.N. action _ suspension of nearly two dozen nuclear aid programs _ and showed no signs it was cowed by the possibility of even tougher penalties in the form of new Security Council sanctions.

The decision by the 35 board nations of the International Atomic Energy Agency to deprive Tehran of 22 technical aid projects was symbolically important. Only North Korea and Saddam Hussein's Iraq had been subject to such action previously.

Still, none of the programs directly applied to the Islamic republic's developing uranium enrichment program _ which Tehran refuses to mothball despite nearly three months of Security Council sanctions and the possibility that those punitive measures may be tightened.

Ali Ashgar Soltanieh, Iran's chief delegate to the IAEA, said as much after the board agreed by consensus to suspend the programs.

``None of these projects are related to enrichment,'' he said of the suspensions. ``The enrichment program will continue as planned.''

IAEA technical aid projects are meant to bolster the peaceful use of nuclear energy in medicine, agriculture, waste management, management training or power generation. The technical aid is provided to dozens of countries, most of them developing nations _ but none suspected of possibly trying to develop nuclear weapons, like Iran.

Enrichment, by contrast, has both peaceful and military applications.

Iran says it wants to develop its enrichment program only to generate nuclear power, and enrichment is not prohibited under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

But Tehran's secretive nuclear ways _ it hid sensitive activities from the world for nearly two decades until revelations four years ago of a covert enrichment project _ led the Security Council to impose sanctions Dec. 23 because of fears its nuclear activities were a cover for a weapons program.

Still, there is little evidence the sanctions are working, beyond generating some domestic criticism of hard-line Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who last month compared Tehran's enrichment program to an unstoppable train without brakes. And the sanctions themselves are milder than what their chief proponent, Washington, would like.

Instead of choking off Iran economically and politically, they only commit all U.N. member countries to stop supplying Iran with materials and technology that could contribute to its nuclear and missile programs and to freeze assets of 10 key Iranian companies and 12 individuals related to those programs.

Russian and Chinese opposition to tougher action blunted Washington's sanctions drive _ and there was evidence of the same in attempts to keep Security Council unity on new sanctions meant to punish Iran for ignoring last month's deadline on suspending enrichment.

Council diplomats on Wednesday said the five permanent Council members were again struggling, with U.S., Britain and France pushing for tougher measures than Russia and China will accept. The impasse led to Security Council ambassadors sending the problem back to high level discussions among their capitals.

Pundits often compared Iran to North Korea _ the other country of nuclear concern that recently agreed to disarm _ in arguing that sanctions work. But in the North's case, any such pressure was a serious blow to a country that had few friends in the outside world and a devastated economy.

And Iran's oil leverage _ it is OPEC's second-largest producer_ gives it extra clout in its standoff with much of the international community, along with its status as a regional power and protector of Shiite Muslims.

The North is ``an incredibly isolated state that has no friends and no significant resources to export,'' said Matthew Bunn of Harvard University's Managing the Atom project. ``But Iran is a state with vast oil and gas resources and a web of commercial and political relations with a large number of important states.

``That makes for a huge difference in terms of the international community's willingness to put leverage on them.''

Ahead of the IAEA decision on technical aid in Vienna, Soltanieh accused the United States and Israel of threatening military attacks on its nuclear facilities and said Security Council sanctions against his country were illegal.

Washington, in turn, criticized Tehran for ignoring Security Council demands to freeze uranium enrichment and said Iranian ``intransigence'' in answering questions about its nuclear program raises the level of concern that it might be seeking to make nuclear arms.

Those comments, inside and on the sidelines of the meeting, came as part of a review of a report by IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei that confirmed Iran had defied a Security Council deadline on enrichment last month.