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27 Nov 2009 15:45
The UN nuclear watchdog censured Iran on Friday and demanded it immediately halt construction of a newly-revealed uranium enrichment plant as world powers united against Tehran.
China and Russia joined forces with Britain, France, Germany and the United States to push through the resolution at the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) board.
The Western powers have long suspected Iran is trying to build a nuclear bomb but have struggled to get diplomatic backing from China and Russia.
Twenty-five nations on the 35-member board voted for the censure, which was the first against Iran since February 2006. Only Venezuela, Malaysia and Cuba voted against.
The resolution was denounced by Iran whose ambassador to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, said it created a “confrontational environment”.
But the envoy said Iran would not pull out of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
Russia and China, which have close links to Iran, came on board following the revelation in September that Iran had been secretly building a second uranium enrichment plant near the holy city of Qom.
Enriched uranium is used to make fuel for nuclear power plants but also the fissile material for an atomic bomb.
Iran, which insists its nuclear programme is for peaceful energy purposes, has been enriching uranium at a bigger plant in Natanz for several years, in defiance of UN sanctions to halt all such activity.
In February 2006 the IAEA referred Tehran to the UN Security Council over its refusal to suspend enrichment and agree to full IAEA inspections.
The new resolution urged Iran to “suspend immediately” construction of the plant at Qom.
It called on Tehran to reveal the purpose of the plant and the chronology of its construction.
It pressed the Islamic Republic to confirm that it “has not taken a decision to construct, or authorise construction of, any other nuclear facility which has as yet not been declared to the agency”.
Iran made similar assurances to the IAEA in September 2008, only to admit a year later that it had been secretly building the facility at Qom since the second half of 2007.
The IAEA says it has satellite images of construction at the site as far back as 2002.
Iranian ambassador Soltanieh rejected suggestions that Tehran could deny IAEA inspectors further access to Qom, which they have visited twice since its existence was first revealed in September.
Qom was “now under IAEA safeguards and it will continue to be under the IAEA safeguards”, the envoy said.
Nevertheless, there would be “natural consequences for a resolution like this because this is a hostile, unfriendly gesture,” he said.
“One of the first consquences is that it will jeopardise the cooperative environment. It creates a confrontational environment,” he said, adding that Tehran would now only meet its legal obligations under its safeguards agreement with the IAEA, “no more, no less”.
The IAEA had brokered a deal under which Russia would lead a consortium that would enrich uranium for Iran to use in a medical research reactor.
Iran would also consider “other options” to get fuel for its research reactor, Soltanieh continued.
“We cannot wait more. Time is of the essence and therefore we have to study other options,” he told reporters.
Asked if Iran would consider quitting the NPT, he said: “At least at this stage, I can say no we are not going to pull back or withdraw from NPT.”
Britain said the resolution sends “strongest possible signal”.
The US ambassador to the IAEA, Glyn Davies, insisted the six powers were not seeking to punish Iran.
“It’s not meant to be punitive,” he said. “I hope it provides further impetus on the diplomatic track.”
But it was a signal to Iran that international “patience is running out,” Davies said.
“We can’t continue talk for talk’s sake. We can’t have round after round of fruitless negotiations that don’t get us where we need to get, which is to a deal in which Iran comes forward and accepts the call of the director general of the IAEA,” he said.—AFP
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