The Guardian: The main European powers last night pressured the UN nuclear authority into ordering Iran to freeze its nuclear activities as Tehran appeared to be winning a high-stakes diplomatic battle in the long-running dispute. After days of behind-the-scenes fighting over a form of words censuring Iran for resuming uranium conversion this week, Britain,
France and Germany gained backing for a resolution at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna demanding an Iranian reversal. The Guardian
Tehran defiant as UN’s nuclear body reluctantly issues statement
Ian Traynor in Vienna
The main European powers last night pressured the UN nuclear authority into ordering Iran to freeze its nuclear activities as Tehran appeared to be winning a high-stakes diplomatic battle in the long-running dispute.
After days of behind-the-scenes fighting over a form of words censuring Iran for resuming uranium conversion this week, Britain, France and Germany gained backing for a resolution at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna demanding an Iranian reversal.
The EU formula, however, was opposed by the IAEA chief, Mohamed ElBaradei, and met stiff opposition from 15 members of the 35-strong IAEA board.
The Europeans convened this week’s board in emergency session because the Iranians rejected an EU package aimed at halting Iran’s key nuclear projects, and restarted converting uranium in Isfahan, a breach of an Iran-EU deal reached last November.
With Iran and the Europeans digging in their heels in a bad-tempered encounter, last night’s outcome may only postpone a larger showdown.
Diplomats and analysts following the two-year dispute believe the Iranians have won this week’s round through carefully calibrated tactical moves that have put the Europeans on the defensive and called their bluff over how to respond.
The Europeans stated categorically last week that they would “terminate the dialogue” with Tehran if the operations in Isfahan were launched.
The Iranians went ahead anyway and last night’s EU formula still offered “the possibility of further discussions”.
The formula agreed last night “urges Iran to re-establish full suspension of all [uranium”> enrichment-related activities”, meaning a stop to the operations launched at Isfahan this week and the resealing of the plant by UN inspectors.
The European aim in the negotiations is to get Iran to abandon enrichment since it provides the know-how and fissile material for nuclear warheads.
The Iranians insist on enriching uranium, as they are entitled to do under their treaty commitments.
Last night’s EU paper made no mention of reprisals if Iran ignores the demands, but it asked for Dr ElBaradei to report to the IAEA board by the beginning of next month.
Facing hostility to setting a deadline, the Europeans put back the reporting date by two weeks, from August 20 to September 3.
That could be the trigger for calling another emergency IAEA meeting, which could then see the Europeans, for the first time in the two-year crisis, supporting US-led calls to take the dispute to the UN security council in New York.
Dr ElBaradei is opposed to delivering the report by September 3, as he was opposed to holding this week’s Vienna meeting. He believed the meeting would produce a stalemate and make the board look “inactive and toothless”.
He is supported by 15 of the 35 board members, including representatives of India, South Africa, Brazil and Malaysia. They fear the restrictions imposed on Iran could eventually be applied to their countries.
The Iranians dismissed the EU draft as “illegal” and made it plain they had no intention of halting activities at Isfahan.
“Uranium conversion is off the table now. The Iranians have pocketed it,” said one official. “It’s a stalemate. Both sides have to shift, but the Iranians less and the Europeans more.”
Within the EU troika, the Germans are identified as “the weakest link” – more likely to embrace a compromise.
Any deal, however, would need to have the tacit backing of the Americans to be worthwhile. That leads Britain to take a harder line in order to try to ensure US support.
South Africa has offered to play a middle role by supplying enriched uranium to Iran for power stations and then taking the spent fuel back so it cannot be diverted for weapons purposes.
This proposal is unlikely to be acceptable to all the parties except as one element of a broader package.
Europeans diplomats admit they cannot muster the necessary support on the IAEA board to take the dispute to New York. Neither advocates nor opponents of security council action can currently muster the 18 votes needed for a majority decision.
Even putting the dispute to the vote would be divisive since the IAEA traditionally operates by consensus. And even if the issue was taken to the security council, it is unlikely any swift or decisive action would be taken there.