The United Nations' nuclear agency is considering a demand by the European Union to refer Iran's nuclear program to the UN Security Council. The draft asks the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to report Iran's "many failures and breaches of its obligations to comply" with safeguard agreements under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). But Russia and China say they oppose taking the matter to the Security Council. RFE/RL looks at the dispute over Iran's nuclear activities and where it may go from here.
Prague, 21 September 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The European Union and United States are making their firmest effort to date to build a consensus at the IAEA for reporting Iran to the Security Council.
The centerpiece of the effort is an EU draft proposal now before the members of IAEA's 35-country board of governors. The draft currently is being informally circulated among the board members for possible revisions, and has not yet been officially presented to the board of governors.
According to copies of the proposal obtained by the media, the draft recommends the Security Council urge Iran to suspend all uranium-enrichment related activities and return to negotiations with Britain, France, and Germany.
It does not call for the Security Council to consider levying sanctions against Iran.
The tone of the draft reflects the frustration of many Western governments with Tehran after the EU-Iran talks broke down in August.
Immediately after the breakdown, Tehran resumed uranium conversion, an early stage in the enrichment process that Iran had previously frozen as a condition for the talks.
Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer told reporters in New York yesterday that "we had hoped that Iran's agreement with the European Union would hold up. Now our concern is that that agreement is now not going to be implemented by the Iranians.
"They seem to wish to proceed with their nuclear program. That's of grave concern to us, but over and above that, the International Atomic Energy Agency has been concerned that Iran hasn't always fulfilled its obligations under the IAEA," Downer added. "So this is a matter that's being considered by the board of governors now, and many of the members of the board of governors, including Australia, believe that this is a matter that should be referred to the Security Council for further consideration."
Western officials caution that it is too early to know how all 35 IAEA member-states will react to the resolution. But some have told news agencies privately that some 20 countries support it.
However, there are also strong opponents -- including Russia and China, which are both permanent members of the Security Council.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in San Francisco yesterday that reporting Iran to the council would be "counterproductive." "Iran is not violating its obligations and its actions do not threaten the nonproliferation regime," he said.
Earlier, Lavrov held a meeting in New York with Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing. The Russian side released a statement afterward saying the ministers agreed the Iran nuclear crisis can be resolved "within the IAEA framework."
Moscow is helping Iran build a commercial nuclear reactor plant near its Persian Gulf port of Bushehr and hopes for more such construction contracts in the future.
Another key regional player, India, has not clearly stated its position. New Delhi is reported to be looking for a way to balance ties to both Iran and the United States.
India is interested in having a natural-gas pipeline running from Iran to meet its energy needs. But New Delhi also hopes Washington will clear the way for it to receive peaceful nuclear-energy technology, despite previously being sanctioned for building nuclear arms.
Tehran has made it clear that it will use its oil power to garner support in its standoff with the Western powers.
Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, said in Tehran yesterday that Iran would consider how countries regard its nuclear activities when it decides how to allocate energy contracts.
Larijani also warned yesterday that Iran could resume efforts to master uranium enrichment if the crisis is referred to the Security Council.
"If they want to threaten us or if they want to send Iran's case to the UN Security Council, we will resume uranium enrichment at the Natanz nuclear plant. If you use the language of force, Iran will have no choice but to leave the framework of the Nonproliferation Treaty and to resume enrichment," Larijani said. "However, if the language of reason is used, then we are prepared to continue having a dialogue. We are not in a position to give up our national position and the right of the Iranian people to possess nuclear know-how."
Iranian Vice President Gholam Reza Aghazadeh said in Vienna today that Iran does not intend to break its commitments under the NPT.
Iran insists on its right under the treaty to domestically produce reactor fuel for its commercial energy program.
But the EU and United States say Iran wants to use that as a cover to pursue uranium enrichment and develop nuclear weapons. Uranium enrichment can produce nuclear fuel or, at high levels of enrichment, weapons-grade material.
The EU has offered to supply Iran with nuclear fuel and technical help for its nuclear energy program if Tehran permanently abandons uranium enrichment. The EU has also offered Iran trade incentives and security guarantees.
Whether the EU can muster enough support for its resolution will only be clearer later this week as the IAEA board of governors continues its meeting in Vienna. If the resolution is presented formally to the board of governors, it could pass by one of two procedures.
If no members oppose it, it could pass by consensus. Or a vote could be taken that would require a simple majority for passage.
But it may be that success this week is less important for the Western powers than building momentum for future attempts.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said recently that she is sure Iran will ultimately be sent to the Security Council, but that the timing is uncertain.
She told the U.S. weekly magazine "Time": "We have the votes now, but the question is, do you have enough of a consensus to send the right kind of message?"
That statement appeared to look ahead to the still tougher battle to be waged in the Security Council, where Russia and China have veto power.
There, the United States, Britain, and France would need as much of a world consensus as possible if they hope to persuade their partners to join them in condemning Iran.
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