But Resolution Lacks U.S.-Sought Terms
By Dafna Linzer
Dropping a last-minute demand yesterday, Iran agreed to fully suspend its nuclear programs and won some additional concessions from Europe for a resolution that excludes many of the Bush administration's proposals for increasing pressure on the Islamic republic.
The resolution, drafted by Britain, France and Germany, is the mildest of the seven previous resolutions against Iran and does not include the explicit threat the White House had sought for reporting Tehran to the U.N. Security Council if it breaks the latest suspension.
Instead, the resolution, which The Washington Post obtained yesterday, calls on the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency to inform countries if Iran does not adhere to its pledges. But the weaker language makes clear the IAEA's verification is "essential" for knowing whether the commitment is being kept, and U.S. officials said that wording at least made clear it was up to the agency, not Iran, to determine whether the agreement was being honored.
Washington also tried, unsuccessfully, to convince allies that Iran should be the target of more aggressive U.N. inspections, as Iraq had been before the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003. Iran has been under IAEA investigation for two years, and inspectors frequently visit the country. But under international treaty laws, Iran is not obligated to provide access to its military sites and has been cooperating voluntarily with the investigation.
The IAEA's board will meet to discuss, and possibly adopt, the resolution today at a meeting in Vienna, though diplomats cautioned there could be more negotiating before the text is approved.
U.S. officials said they were disappointed with the resolution, hammered out over the last week in Vienna, but that President Bush had decided not to block its passage.
"People here are very unhappy about all this, but we have to go through the motions," one official in Washington said. "We think Iran will break this deal soon enough, anyway."
The head of the U.S. delegation in Vienna, Ambassador Jackie Sanders, was preparing a lengthy statement to read after the resolution is adopted making clear the United States will seek to report Iran to the Security Council, which can impose economic sanctions or an oil embargo if it violates the suspension, diplomats said.
But the resolution also includes a sentence that says Iran's suspension is a "voluntary, non-legally binding confidence-building measure," giving the nation a lot of maneuvering room should the United States try to take it to task for failing the suspension.
The only toughly worded sentence in the two-page resolution criticizes Iran for concealing its nuclear program in the past but welcomes the corrective measures it has taken since October 2003 when it was first reported to the IAEA's board.
Iran's commitment to halt its nuclear programs was part of an agreement it reached with Britain, France and Germany two weeks ago. In exchange for the suspension, the European trio promised Iran it would not support Washington's attempts to refer the case to the Security Council as long as the suspension holds.
The second phase of the agreement will begin next month when diplomats from all four countries begin open-ended negotiations on nuclear, economic and regional security issues aimed at reaching a final accord between Iran and Europe. European officials expect the talks to end with Iran giving up its nuclear ambitions.
Iran almost derailed the deal last week when it sent a letter to IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei announcing that it would continue research work with 20 centrifuges. After three days of international pressure from other nations, Iran sent a second letter yesterday rescinding the request but used it to win additional concessions from the Europeans, including the added mention that the suspension was voluntary.
In a face-saving arrangement, the 20 centrifuges will not be under IAEA seal. Instead, diplomats said, the equipment will be monitored by agency cameras, and Iran has promised not to use the centrifuges for any purpose, diplomats said.
The deal was worked out during a meeting in Vienna late yesterday. European diplomats left the session saying they were satisfied with the letter and then submitted the resolution to the IAEA's board. "It's all been resolved," one European diplomat said on the condition of anonymity.
But there were questions about the wording and the signature on the letter, and U.S. diplomats said they would review it carefully today. Iran had sent a letter two weeks ago promising the full suspension, as part of a deal it made with Britain, France and Germany. But that letter contained several changes to the deal and made no mention of the later request to conduct limited research work.
Iran says its once-secret uranium enrichment program, which was exposed by an exile group two years ago, is part of a future nuclear energy program. But Iran's vast oil and gas wealth, the scale of the program, and 18 years of concealment have fueled suspicions that Iran is trying to build a nuclear weapon.
A recent CIA report on weapons of mass destruction says the U.S. government is convinced Iran is trying to build a nuclear weapon but offered no concrete evidence.
IAEA inspectors have not found evidence of a weapons program, but ElBaradei told the board on Friday that Iran suffers from a "confidence deficit" and needs to take steps to win the world's trust.