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UPDATED: 09:45, September 20, 2005
IAEA board divided on Iran nuke issue
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The European Union pressed the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Monday to bring Iran's nuclear programme before the United Nations (UN) Security Council over suspicions it is seeking nuclear bombs.

Diplomats said Britain, France and Germany, the "EU trio," were working to convince the 35-nation board of the IAEA, which began meeting Monday, to refer Iran to the Security Council after it resumed nuclear processing last month.

They faced intense opposition from Russia and developing countries on the IAEA board, who are sympathetic to Iran's insistence it has a right to run a peaceful nuclear programme to generate electricity. Iran denies it is seeking nuclear bombs.

"Do we think we have a majority? Yes, we probably have," said one EU diplomat. "Do we think that a majority of, say, 20 out of 35 with some big countries voting against or abstaining would be enough to pressure Iran? That is the question."

The United States, which has long accused Teheran of seeking nuclear bombs, is pushing for fast action after Britain, France and Germany failed to convince Iran to mothball its nuclear programme in return for political and economic incentives.

"We think a report to the Security Council is long overdue," said US Ambassador to the IAEA Gregory Schulte.

No immediate sanctions

EU diplomats say the EU trio would not seek immediate sanctions against Iran, but ask the Security Council to call on Teheran to refreeze its nuclear programme.

Iran, however vowed Monday to press ahead with its nuclear programme after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in a speech to the UN General Assembly on Saturday, branded Western efforts to restrict it as "nuclear apartheid."

The official IRNA news agency Monday quoted Ali Larijani, secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, as saying Teheran refused to bow to pressure. "We will continue our nuclear activities in the framework of the IAEA regulations."

Russia, China, Brazil and IAEA Director Mohamed ElBaradei oppose an immediate referral to the UN Security Council, along with many developing countries on the board.

Twelve of 14 IAEA board members from the Non-Aligned Movement, who met Monday to forge a common position, believed Iran's case should be resolved within the IAEA, diplomats said, with only Peru and Singapore ready to back a referral.

"Everybody would like to avoid a contentious debate in the Security Council," Indian Foreign Minister Natwar Singh, speaking in New York, told NDTV television news.

Washington and the EU want an early IAEA referral, before the 2005-2006 IAEA board takes office with more non-aligned states. Any vote on a referral to the Security Council is unlikely before the end of the week, if at all.

The Iran issue has split IAEA board members between Western countries favouring tough action and emerging economies which accuse the West of trying to deprive poor nations of independent nuclear programmes.

Western countries say that since Iran hid a uranium enrichment programme from the IAEA for 18 years, the only way it can prove it is not seeking nuclear bombs is to renounce sensitive nuclear technology altogether.

Developing countries back Iran's assertion that it is not now breaking any rules under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, to which it is a signatory, that allows it to run a civilian nuclear programme under the supervision of the IAEA.

Source: China Daily

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