Diplomats: Iran Still Refuses Monitoring Cameras On Eve Of Meeting
Sunday, March 4th 2007, 4:16 pm
News On 6
VIENNA, Austria (AP) _ Iran is still refusing U.N. requests to put up cameras with a full view of the site where the Islamic Republic is assembling what it says will eventually be 54,000 uranium-enriching centrifuges, diplomats said ahead of a key meeting on Iran's nuclear program.
The 35-nation board of the International Atomic Energy Agency was expected at the meeting starting Monday to approve a decision last month by agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei to suspend nearly half the technical aid his agency provides to Iran. Such a move would be symbolically significant because only North Korea and Saddam Hussein's Iraq had faced such punishment in the past.
The board in the past has often been split on what action to take against Iran. The United States, its key allies and most European nations have usually been opposed by nonaligned board members that are against harsh punishment.
But the diplomats said that even nations normally backing Tehran _ including key U.S. critics such as Cuba and Venezuela _ would likely agree to the suspensions because they were backed by the Security Council.
The decision would be in line with existing Security Council sanctions.
The Iranian delegation to the IAEA turned down a request for comment on the meeting, and the information provided by the diplomats.
The Islamic Republic insists it has a right to enrichment to generate nuclear energy. But growing fears about the program's other application _ creating the fissile material for nuclear warheads _ led the U.N. Security Council to slap sanctions on Tehran late last year.
Lack of full remote monitoring means that the agency cannot keep tabs on all activities at the underground bunker in the desert outside the central Iranian city of Natanz, said one of the diplomats, who demanded anonymity because he was not allowed to discuss the confidential file with the media. Iran continues to assemble individual centrifuges in the hall after setting up hundreds of them earlier this year, he said.
Iran's decision in late January to bar 38 inspectors from entering the country also was burdening relations with the agency, another diplomat said. In taking such action, Iran claimed to have found one senior expert ``spying for his home country'' in 2006 by using wiretapping equipment to collect information outside the purview of nuclear inspections, said the diplomat.
IAEA officials said they would not comment on the claim.
Up for review Monday will be a Feb. 22 report from ElBaradei finding that instead of suspending enrichment, Tehran has expanded such activities. That conclusion _ in violation of a Security Council ultimatum _ has led to a new round of council consultations on expanding sanctions.
ElBaradei, in an internal report circulated to board members last month, had called for full or partial suspension of 18 projects that he deemed could be misused to create nuclear weapons. His agency had already suspended aid to Iran in five instances in January.
The board will also be reviewing another key nuclear issue: North Korea's apparent willingness to ultimately dismantle its nuclear arms-making capabilities.
ElBaradei plans to go to Pyongyang on March 13 as part of the six-nation agreement.
North Korea kicked IAEA monitors out in late 2002 at the beginning of the current nuclear standoff, withdrawing from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and reactivating its mothballed nuclear program, which led to its first-ever atomic weapons test in October.
The Feb. 13 deal reached in Beijing calls for North Korea to close its main nuclear complex in Yongbyon, north of Pyongyang, allow IAEA monitors back to the country to verify the closure, and then disable all its nuclear facilities.
In return, North Korea would get economic assistance and political incentives, including the creation of a bilateral working group on establishing diplomatic relations with the U.S.
U.N. officials familiar with the North Korea file said the board will likely agree to meet in a special session once ElBaradei returns to hear his report and _ if positive _ formally authorize the return of IAEA inspectors to the North.