US promises strong diplomacy on ‘nuclear nations’

The United States on Monday promised strong diplomacy with Iran, Syria and North Korea to help the United Nations nuclear watchdog tackle suspected proliferation challenges posed by the three nations.

The pledge, made at the first International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) meeting since US President Barack Obama took office in January, reflected his commitment to engage US adversaries after years of unfruitful isolation policy by George Bush.

Obama’s challenges include suspected nuclear weapons work in Iran and Syria and their failure to open up to IAEA inspectors, and stalled talks to end North Korea’s atom bomb programme.

He has yet to undertake concrete steps, pending the outcome of a sweeping foreign policy review due in a few weeks.

But Washington’s IAEA ambassador sketched the principles of the new US approach, citing ”a moment of unparalleled opportunity with a renewed American commitment to the United Nations and multilateral diplomacy”.

Addressing the IAEA’s 35-nation board of governors, Gregory Schulte said the US believed robust diplomacy would strengthen the IAEA’s ability to detect nuclear proliferators and encourage cooperation with its investigators.

”We believe that preserving the agency’s credibility in implementing NPT [Non-Proliferation Treaty] safeguards depends on our success in dealing with the immediate challenges, specifically those posed by North Korea, Iran and Syria.

”The new administration intends to strengthen diplomatic efforts to address each of these challenges,” Schulte said.

”Hence the administration’s readiness for direct engagement with Tehran … Hence the administration using dialogue with Syria to encourage it to cooperate with the IAEA. Hence [our] commitment to the six-party process to pursue the denuclearisation of North Korea.”

This was all part of a heightened US priority to ensure the IAEA ”gets the authority, information, people and technology it needs to do its job”, Schulte told the closed-door meeting.

A senior US State Department official said later in Egypt, on the sidelines of a donors’ conference for Gaza, that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had said she was ”doubtful” Iran would respond to any kind of engagement.

New US approach heartens IAEA
IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei, launching the week-long meeting, said the new US readiness to engage Iran could be a boon for IAEA access.

”I am hopeful that the apparent fresh approach by the international community to dialogue with Iran will give new impetus to the efforts to resolve this long-standing issue in a way that provides the required assurances about the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme, while assuring Iran of its right to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes,” he said.

ElBaradei did not mention the Obama administration by name, but his inference was clear.

He said Iran had stonewalled IAEA inspectors by:

  • refusing checks beyond declared nuclear installations;
  • refusing to let them verify Iranian design data to ensure a heavy water reactor will be put only to peaceful uses; and
  • refusing to provide documentation and on-the-ground access to disprove mainly US intelligence allegations of ”possible military dimensions” to its nuclear fuel programme.

Iran says it is enriching uranium for a planned network of nuclear power plants, not weapons as Western powers suspect.

On Syria, IAEA inspectors say enough traces of uranium were found in soil samples taken in a trip to the bombed site granted by Syria last June to constitute a ”significant” find, and satellite pictures revealed a building resembling a reactor.

ElBaradei said Syria repeated in a February 15 letter to the IAEA that the wrecked facility, and another built on top of it, were military installations not involved in nuclear activities.

The letter did not address many of the IAEA’s queries, he said, again pressing Syria to back up its denials.

Diplomats close to the IAEA say satellite imagery shows Syria removed such materials and landscaped sites in question to alter their appearance after inspectors asked to see them. — Reuters

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