U.N. nuclear chief: Iran issue ‘reaching a critical phase’ | VailDaily.com

U.N. nuclear chief: Iran issue ‘reaching a critical phase’

VIENNA, Austria – Iran threatened to retaliate Thursday in the face of almost certain referral to the U.N. Security Council for its nuclear activities, and the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency said the dispute was “reaching a critical phase.”Ahead of a decision by the IAEA’s 35-nation board, U.S. and European delegates turned to behind-the-scenes diplomacy to build the broadest possible support for reporting Iran to the council over concerns it is seeking nuclear weapons.Cuba, Venezuela, Syria and a few other nations at odds with Washington remained opposed. India was said to be leaning toward supporting referral.Diplomats accredited to the meeting said backing for Iran had shrunk among the U.N. nuclear watchdog’s board since Russia and China swung their support behind referral at an overnight meeting with the United States, France and Britain – the other three permanent council members – that started Monday.”There’s a solid majority in favor of reporting,” Gregory L. Schulte, the chief U.S. delegate to the IAEA, told The Associated Press. “There’s even a more solid majority after Monday.”State Department spokesman Sean McCormack the number of nations expected to vote against referral were in the “low to single digits.”Iran remained defiant. In a last-minute warning, Tehran’s chief nuclear negotiator told IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei that his country would severely curtail agency inspections and resume uranium enrichment if reported to the council.Ali Larijani, in a letter made available to the AP, said referral would leave Iran no choice but “to suspend all the voluntary measures and extra cooperation” with the IAEA – shorthand for reducing IAEA monitoring to a minimum.Furthermore, “all the peaceful nuclear activities being under voluntary suspension would be resumed without any restriction,” said the letter, suggesting a resumption of work on full-scale uranium enrichment – a possible pathway to nuclear arms.Iran has made such threats before. What was significant this time, however, was that the warnings were in the form of a formal notification to the head of the IAEA.As Thursday’s meeting adjourned, U.S. and European diplomats intensified efforts to widen support for a European draft resolution calling for Iran to be brought before the council.ElBaradei said there was a “window of opportunity” to defuse the crisis, stressing that even if the issue is referred, the Security Council would not take up the issue before next month.”We are reaching a critical phase but it is not a crisis,” he said.Iran, which claims its program is peaceful and aimed only at generating electricity, has repeatedly warned that such action would provoke it into doing exactly what the world wants it to renounce – starting full-scale uranium enrichment – as well as curtailing IAEA inspections.Key members of the Security Council remained unmoved.Grigory Berdennikov, Russia’s chief IAEA delegate, reinforced Moscow’s position outside the meeting, saying referral to the Security Council would send Iran “a serious signal.”Schulte agreed.”It is time to send a clear and unequivocal message to the Iranian regime about the concerns of the international community by reporting this issue to the Security Council,” he said.Washington has waited years for international suspicions over Iran’s nuclear ambitions to translate into support among board nations.Only a simple majority is needed to approve the text, but the United States and its backers have held off pushing for earlier referral in hopes of building support for the measure. Support has grown since Jan. 10, when Iran stripped IAEA seals from enrichment equipment and announced it would restart the program.While a broad majority of member nations support referral, a few countries that have policy disputes with Washington remain opposed – among them Cuba, Venezuela, Syria and Belarus.”My delegation manifests its total disagreement with the proposal … to bring it to the Security Council,” said Venezuela’s Gustavo Marques Marin. And Syria’s Safwan Ghanem told reporters: “We will vote ‘no.”‘A vote was expected Friday or Saturday. Countries opposed have the choice of voting against the text or abstaining.Speaking for Germany, Britain and France – the three nations representing the European Union – German chief delegate Herbert Honsowitz told the meeting: “The time now has come for the Security Council to get involved.”The confidential draft resolution obtained by the AP “requests the director general to report to the Security Council” on steps Iran needs to take to dispel international suspicion it could be seeking to manufacture nuclear arms.The draft expresses “serious concerns about Iran’s nuclear program” and notes “the absence of confidence that Iran’s nuclear program is exclusively for peaceful purposes.”If the board approves referral as expected, it will launch a protracted process that could end in Security Council sanctions for Tehran.But no action is expected for weeks, if not months. Moscow and Beijing support referral only on condition that the council do nothing until at least March, when the board next meets to review the status of an IAEA inquiry into Iran’s nuclear program and recommends further action.”I am making very clear that the Security Council is not asked at this stage to take any action,” ElBaradei said.Berdennikov also told reporters that Russia “insists” no Security Council action be taken before March.Vail, Colorado

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