US Presses for Nuclear Agency to Send 'Strong Message' to Iran

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

( - The United States hopes the U.N. nuclear watchdog will send Iran "a strong message" about its nuclear activities this week, but "non-aligned" nations represented on the agency's board reportedly oppose a firm statement, and China has also declared itself reluctant to refer Iran to the Security Council.

Iran's chief delegate to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Sirus Naseri, told the BBC Wednesday night that any attempt to refer his country to the Security Council would be a "big, big mistake" on the part of the U.S. and Europe.

The standoff over Iran's nuclear program took a new turn earlier in the day when Tehran announced it had removed IAEA seals at a uranium conversion plant in the central city of Isfahan, making the facility fully operational.

Uranium conversion and enrichment - the next step in manufacturing fuel for either power reactors or atomic weapons - had been suspended under an agreement reached last November with the European Union trio (E.U.-3), Britain, France and Germany.

But Iran this week rejected as unacceptable an E.U.-3 proposal and resumed the controversial work. The trio had offered a package of economic and security incentives, including approval of a civilian nuclear industry, in return for Iran refraining from sensitive fuel cycle activity that could help to make weapons.

At a press briefing, State Department spokesman Adam Ereli criticized what he called "a continued series of provocative actions" by Iran and said discussions were underway among members of the IAEA's 35-member board of governors about how to respond.

He did not directly respond to a question about the position of so-called non-aligned nations' representatives, but said: "We are working to achieve the broadest consensus possible and the strongest resolution possible."

The U.S. expected a resolution "later in the week."

"We want to send Iran a strong message that it is critically important to re-establish the suspension on uranium conversion activities and to cooperate fully with the IAEA in resolving all the unanswered questions about its nuclear program."

Wire reports have cited unnamed diplomats as saying non-aligned members of the board were resisting a strongly-worded resolution, arguing that it could draw a backlash from Tehran.

Board members include four Muslim states -- Algeria, Pakistan, Tunisia and Yemen -- as well as five in Latin America and several in Africa and Asia. All five permanent Security Council members are also on the board.

Since Iran's clandestine, 18-year nuclear program was exposed in 2002, the U.S. has kept open the option of referring it to the Security Council -- a move that could lead to sanctions -- and President Bush this week reiterated that referral remained a "potential consequence."

Ereli said Washington's position on the Security Council hadn't changed, although the U.S. was trying "to give Iran a chance to do the right thing."

"What we want to see is action that prevents Iran from getting a nuclear weapon."

Meanwhile China has made clear that it would not support Security Council referral, a move Beijing's ambassador to the U.N., Wang Guangya, said would "not be helpful."

"I think the E.U. and Iran have not given up their efforts to work together for a solution," Wang said. "This issue deserves a diplomatic solution."

In the early 1990s, China admitted nuclear cooperation with Tehran, but insisted the programs benefiting from its assistance were purely for peaceful purposes.

Iran continues to maintain that its activity is solely aimed at generating power, and says it has the "right" to develop the nuclear fuel cycle.

But the U.S., Europeans and Israel suspect the civilian program is a cover for efforts to develop nuclear weapons.

Henry Sokolski, executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center in Washington, said in a PBS interview this week he believed Iran wanted to get as close as it could to having an atomic bomb.

Moreover, the Iranians wanted the nuclear rules to read "that they have a right to do everything they need to get within hours, days of having an arsenal," he said.

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow