IAEA board agrees to deny Iranian request for help in building reactor


Wednesday, November 22nd 2006, 4:52 pm
By: News On 6


VIENNA, Austria (AP) _ The U.N. nuclear watchdog agency effectively agreed Wednesday to deny Iran technical help in building a plutonium-producing reactor but left room for Tehran to renew its request in two years, diplomats said.

A committee of the International Atomic Energy Agency forwarded a summary of three days of deliberations on 832 requests for technical aid to the full board, scheduled to meet Thursday.

That gathering was expected to waive a decision on Tehran's request for aid for its Arak reactor. That, in effect, would deny IAEA money for Arak _ at least for the next two years, after which new requests will be considered.

The two diplomats _ from countries on opposing sides of the issue _ had different interpretations of what the expected ruling would mean, reflecting the depth of the dispute. Both demanded anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the topic with the media.

A European diplomat said the tentative agreement effectively meant that Iran's request was turned down. Another diplomat, from a developing nation, said it meant that the issue remained on the table because it could be revisited.

``It certainly is not denied,'' he said.

The committee summary noted that ``several members expressed the need for caution regarding technical cooperation with the Islamic Republic of Iran.'' They ``expressed particular concern'' over Arak, saying they could not approve other Iranian projects if aid for the reactor were approved, said the summary of the closed meeting, obtained by The Associated Press.

Gregory L. Schulte, the chief U.S. representative to the IAEA, said his country had no choice but to oppose aid to Arak, given past calls by the board for the project to be stopped, ``the widespread distrust of Iran's nuclear program and the risk of plutonium (being) diverted from this reactor for use in a (nuclear) weapon.''

The full board on Thursday also will hear a report on the latest stage of a nearly four-year IAEA investigation into Iran's nuclear activities.

That report essentially says the agency has been unable to make headway in determining whether suspicions that Tehran is interested in making nuclear weapons are well-founded. Schulte said the report also shows that ``the mistrust of Iran is only growing as Iran fails to cooperate with the IAEA.''

Iran, meanwhile, used the gathering to criticize Israel, expressing ``deep concern as a result of the threat of armed attack against Iran's nuclear facilities and installations.''

``Recently the Zionist regime has augmented the campaign and threat,'' said a Nov. 13 letter from Iran's IAEA representative, Ali Ashgar Soltanieh, obtained by the AP. The letter was attached to an IAEA document issued for the meeting saying Soltanieh had asked that his comments be circulated among delegates.

Still, the Arak dispute was the main focus of the meeting. While the argument was over technicalities, it reflected the politically charged atmosphere.

Technical aid requests are normally approved without discussion _ but since the first committee meeting Monday, suspicions that Iran might be seeking to make nuclear weapons led to diplomatic tussling on what to do about the request. When it is completed within the next decade, Arak will produce enough plutonium for two bombs a year.

Past IAEA resolutions have urged Iran to stop building the Arak reactor, which Iran says it needs to produce radioactive isotopes for medical purposes.

Developing countries _ the key recipients of IAEA technical help _ are worried that denial of aid for any project would set a precedent that would hurt their future chances of getting agency support.

Arak is one of seven or eight projects submitted by Iran _ lists circulating among diplomats have conflicting numbers. Most, if not all, of the 35 nations had no trouble approving Iran's request for help, along with the other far less contentious projects, said the diplomats.

Rebuffing Iran's request would not affect Arak's construction and would also have no effect on the country's other potential avenue to weapons production _ uranium enrichment.

Still, the denial would maintain at least symbolic pressure while the U.N. Security Council is deadlocked over how to sanction Iran for ignoring demands to stop enriching uranium.

Among the other projects submitted by Iran, 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 acknowledge does not pose a threat of nuclear proliferation. The other requests seek assistance in administrative or safety aspects of nuclear power.