Reuters: The U.N. nuclear watchdog’s board of governors on Thursday indefinitely blocked Iran’s bid for technical aid for a reactor project over concerns it could be secretly used to yield bomb-grade plutonium. By Mark Heinrich and Karin Strohecker
VIENNA (Reuters) – The U.N. nuclear watchdog’s board of governors on Thursday indefinitely blocked Iran’s bid for technical aid for a reactor project over concerns it could be secretly used to yield bomb-grade plutonium.
But diplomats said the ruling, which the International Atomic Energy Agency’s board adopted by consensus after days of haggling between industrialised and developing nations, left a theoretical possibility of revisiting Iran’s request in future.
In a compromise hammered out in negotiations ahead of the board meeting, Iranian requests for IAEA technical assistance on seven other nuclear energy projects judged not to pose a risk of being diverted to bomb-making were approved by the board.
“The decision is that the (Arak) project will be definitely put on hold,” IAEA director Mohamed ElBaradei told reporters. “Obviously, if matters (with Iran) move in a different direction in future, the board might consider to revisit the decision.”
Tehran says its nuclear agenda, anchored on enrichment of uranium, is limited to generating electricity or, in the case of the Arak reactor project, radio-isotopes for medical ends.
The United States and European allies suspect the Islamic Republic’s professed civilian nuclear programme is a cover for building bombs to imperil Israel and Western interests in the Middle East, and have drafted U.N. sanctions against Tehran.
Iran sought on-site IAEA safety advice at the Arak complex under construction. It said the IAEA had a duty to ensure all nations’ nuclear programmes were safe, but vowed to complete the reactor by 2009 whether granted IAEA expertise or not.
“Asking for safety expertise on Arak is like a burglar digging a tunnel under a street to rob a bank and asking for help to ensure the street surface won’t be undermined,” a European Union diplomat said.
The session of the 35-nation IAEA board also debated a November 8 report by ElBaradei describing Iran’s evasions of agency investigations dating to 2003.
He told the board meeting, however, Iran had just agreed to let IAEA inspectors take further environmental samples from research equipment to try to determine the origin of traces of highly enriched, or weapons-quality, uranium found there.
ElBaradei said Iran also agreed to provide inspectors access to operating records needed to audit the level of uranium enrichment at its Natanz pilot nuclear fuel plant after a prolonged refusal to do so.
“These are important steps in the right direction,” he said of Iran’s gestures, possibly made to help blunt Western pressure for tough U.N. Security Council sanctions.
The sanctions are being resisted by Russia and China, major trade partners of Tehran.
“What we really require from Iran is a full explanation of the development of its nuclear programme from (1980s) start to finish,” ElBaradei said. “Then, Iran needs to openly corroborate this explanation with evidence, including records and access to relevant locations and individuals involved.”
Developing nations on the board said the Arak bid should not be formally rejected as this could set a precedent complicating future requests for technical aid for peaceful nuclear programmes anywhere.
Gregory Schulte, the U.S. ambassador to the IAEA, told reporters the Arak item “was not deferred, not put on hold, it was removed entirely from the IAEA programme”.
A source familiar with IAEA procedure said the board’s deletion of Arak from the approved list of projects meant Iran could resubmit it with the next batch in 2008.