By Golnaz Esfandiari
Prague, 11 March 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The United States says it is confident the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will get tough with Iran over its nuclear program.
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said an IAEA draft resolution being debated includes a warning to Iran that it is close to violating its IAEA obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and could face "further action."
The IAEA's 35-member board of governors is meeting this week in Vienna behind closed doors to decide how to deal with Iran's failure to fully disclose its nuclear activities.
Washington has been pressing for Iran's nuclear issue to be referred to the UN Security Council. But the move has been opposed by Britain, France, and Germany, which have been engaged in a policy of "constructive dialogue" with Tehran.
"Iran has been in breach of its obligations for many years, and we need to build confidence."
Iran yesterday threatened to end its cooperation with the IAEA. Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi told reporters after a cabinet meeting yesterday that Iran is working with the agency, but he said such cooperation should be bilateral. He said, "If one side does not respect its obligations, the cooperation will end." Kharrazi said the IAEA should honor its commitments to Tehran and stop being "influenced" by the United States. He said Tehran will react to any improper decisions taken by the IAEA.
Iran's ambassador to the IAEA in Vienna, Pirooz Hosseini, said yesterday that the draft resolution is the result of what he called U.S. "bullying." He said European nations should have done more to stand up to Washington. "The three European countries [Britain, Germany, and France] tried their best, I think. But, on the other hand, we expected more from our European colleagues," he said. "But unfortunately, as I said, too much pressure -- unconstructive pressure by the Americans -- put an impediment and an obstacle in the way of the cooperation of Iran with the agency."
Under a deal brokered last year by France, Germany, and Britain, Iran agreed to fully cooperate with the IAEA and to suspend its uranium-enrichment activities. In return, the three European countries agreed to provide Iran with peaceful nuclear technology.
Kharrazi said Iran plans to resume its uranium-enrichment activities once its relations with the IAEA are normalized.
IAEA Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei warned against such a move yesterday and said Iran has been cooperating with the agency so far. "Iran has been in breach of its obligations for many years, and we need to build confidence," he said. "Confidence will take [time], at least, you know. And I think the suspension [of uranium-enrichment activities] is an important thing for continuing to create that confidence."
Iran says its nuclear program is for civilian purposes only. The United States accuses Tehran of pursuing a clandestine weapons program.
Mehdi Mozafari is a professor of political science at Arhus University in Denmark. He says Iran is effectively trying to blackmail the IAEA by threatening to halt cooperation. "In this situation, the Iranian government is finding [itself] under huge pressure both from the [UN nuclear] agency and also from the Americans and Europeans. I don't think really that the Iranian government has much argument or possibilities to counterattack the peaceful strategy from the agency," he said.Earlier this week, Tehran called on the IAEA to remove Iran's nuclear program from its agenda. But el-Baradei said Iran's nuclear program will be taken off the agency's agenda only after all outstanding issues are resolved.
A spokeswoman for the agency, Melissa Fleming, spoke to RFE/RL's Persian Service on 8 March about the most critical issue facing the agency. "Certainly, the most urgent and important issue is to resolve the question of why the IAEA found traces of highly enriched uranium on components and at sites in Iran," she said. "This question is still unresolved."
Iran blames imported materials from third parties for the contamination. Highly enriched uranium is a key ingredient for the production of nuclear weapons.
Professor Mozafari says Iran's future ratification of the Additional Protocol to the Non-Proliferation Treaty is another unresolved issue. "So far, this protocol has not been approved by the parliament, [so] it has not really the validity of law," he said.
The Iranian government has not yet submitted the bill for the ratification of the Additional Protocol to parliament. However, Iran has said it will act as if the protocol is already in force. Mozafari says ratification of the bill could be jeopardized if the government waits to submit it until Iran's new conservative-dominated parliament sits in June.
Copyright (c) 2004. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org