Showdown Looms as Crucial Nuclear Report on Iran Due

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:16 PM EDT

( - The head of the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog is due at the weekend to issue a report on Iran's nuclear activities, which could finally prod the agency to back a U.S. push to refer Iran to the U.N. Security Council.

The situation arose from Iran's decision to resume sensitive uranium work in violation of an agreement it negotiated with three E.U. nations last November.

Despite the breach, the International Atomic Energy Agency's board of governors at a meeting in Vienna last month stopped short of taking further steps against Iran. But it did mandate IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei to produce a comprehensive report on the matter on Sept. 3.

The E.U., represented by France, Britain and Germany, has been trying for two years to negotiate a resolution to the standoff over Iran's nuclear programs.

Iran says its program -- which it hid from the international community for 18 years -- is entirely peaceful, aimed at generating energy and permitted under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The West suspects it may be a cover for developing atomic weapons.

After Iran resumed uranium conversion, France, Britain and Germany suspended talks with Tehran. For its part, Iran began publicly to question why the negotiations should be limited to the E.U. rather than also include other, "non-aligned" nations on the IAEA board.

Members of the Non-Aligned Movement represented on the board have up to now opposed taking firm action against Iran.

E.U. foreign ministers met in Wales this week, after which British foreign secretary Jack Straw - whose country holds the union presidency - said they would await ElBaradei's report on Saturday before deciding whether to press for referral to the Security Council.

There have been signs of a hardening E.U. resolve in recent days, however.

On Monday, French President Jacques Chirac warned Iran that if it did not cease all of its nuclear activities, it would face the Security Council.

"The use of civilian nuclear energy, which is perfectly legitimate, must not serve as a pretext for pursuing activities whose end result could be building up a military nuclear arsenal," he said in a speech to French diplomats in Paris.

Separately, the E.U.'s external relations commissioner, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, told reporters that while "nobody wants to go to the Security Council ... it might become unavoidable if they don't co-operate."

Once ElBaradei's report has been delivered, the IAEA board of governors will hold another meeting, which is when the question of referral to the council is expected to be addressed.

A majority of the board's 35 members would be enough to carry a decision.

Together, the U.S. and its closer allies make up 17 of the 35 -- Australia, Canada, Japan, Singapore, South Korea and 11 European countries. Only one more vote would be needed for a majority.

The rest of the current members are: Algeria, Argentina, Brazil, China, Ecuador, Ghana, India, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Russia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Tunisia, Venezuela, Vietnam and Yemen.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Thursday that referral was a first step, after which the U.S. would consult closely with its Security Council colleagues on what appropriate action should be taken.

With a possible showdown looming, Iranian media have stepped up criticism of the E.U.

In an op-ed published in the Tehran Times, editorialist Hassan Hanizadeh said the E.U.'s "blind acceptance" of American security policies showed that the union was in political decline.

He accused Chirac of acting under pressure from the U.S., "French Zionists" and "the international Zionist lobby."

Kayhan, a newspaper with links to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, accused Chirac of "meddling."

Subscribe to the free daily E-Brief.

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow