No agreement made on Iran resolution

U.S. criticizes IAEA for denying evidence of nuclear program

November 22, 2003|By Douglas Frantz | Douglas Frantz,LOS ANGELES TIMES

VIENNA, Austria - The International Atomic Energy Agency's board failed to agree on language for a resolution yesterday to condemn Iran for concealing its nuclear activities as the top U.S. diplomat and the head of the U.N. watchdog agency traded criticisms.

The United States accused the agency of undercutting its credibility by denying that it had uncovered evidence that Iran was seeking atomic weapons. "It will take time to overcome the damage caused to the agency's credibility by this highly unfortunate and misleading `no evidence' turn of phrase," Kenneth Brill, the U.S. ambassador to the IAEA, told the organization's board of governors.

The agency's report, leaked to the media this month, said Iran had concealed a uranium enrichment program for 18 years and detailed other episodes in which Iran had hidden nuclear activities that it was obligated to report to the agency under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Some of those activities appeared to have the potential to be used to develop nuclear weapons.

But a key section of the report, which officials said was debated extensively within the IAEA before its finalization, said "no evidence" had been found of a weapons program but that the pattern of concealment meant inspectors had more work to do before reaching a final determination.

After Brill's sharp remarks, Mohamed ElBaradei, the director general of the IAEA, took the unusual step of addressing the board personally to refute the criticism, which he called "disingenuous."

ElBaradei, a former law professor at New York University, said the report used the word "evidence" to mean "proof" - words that he argued were interchangeable in a legal sense.

"We maintain our credibility by continuing to be impartial and factual," ElBaradei told the 35 countries represented on the board.

The remarks came on the second day of debate over how tough the wording should be on a resolution condemning Iran for failing to report all of its nuclear activities.

The Bush administration has accused Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons. A senior Western diplomat said yesterday that the United States remains convinced that Iran was still operating a covert weapons program under the control of its military.

The United States is pushing the IAEA to pass a tough resolution declaring Iran in "noncompliance" with its obligations under the nuclear proliferation treaty, although diplomats said Washington, D.C., has backed away from efforts to refer the matter to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions.

A U.S. official said the administration was insisting on tough wording because it feared a weak message could encourage other countries that might be interested in developing nuclear weapons.

"The rubber meets the road on the NPT right now," said the official, who spoke on condition that he not be identified. "People are making calculations on this, people in laboratories."

Britain, France and Germany are leading the effort to draft a more moderate resolution that would recognize Iran's past concealment but would stop short of declaring it in noncompliance with the treaty.

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