Iran finally exhausts European patience

19 September 2005

The EU3 of France, Germany and the UK has drafted a resolution to refer Iran to the UN Security Council over its nuclear activities. If the resolution is put to the IAEA board during its 19-20 September meeting it would spell the end of European diplomacy over Iranian uranium enrichment capabilities in the face of hardline American opposition.

The two-year-old dispute was finally brought to a head by new Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s first ever speech to the UN General Assembly on 17 September. He took the opportunity to condemn unilateralism as being in contradiction to the very foundations of the United Nations and his speech contained several obvious attacks on the West and the USA in particular. Crucially he stated that his country could “reconsider its entire approach to the nuclear issue” if threatened by force and accused the West of trying to enforce a “nuclear apartheid.”

For over two years Iran, the EU3 and the USA have been involved in extended negotiations about Iran’s nuclear programme. The enrichment facility at Natanz is at the heart of discussions: The USA has long suspected Natanz’s real purpose was to create weapons-usable material and has called for its shutdown, while Iran has insisted on its right to develop peaceful nuclear energy as a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The EU3 has requested an end to enrichment and has repeatedly attempted to ‘build confidence’ between all parties by negotiating temporary enrichment suspensions. Sadly, no real confidence was ever built because the two Western groups were never able to find any middle ground with Iran on the question of enrichment.

The Western powers may call for Security Council referral if they think they can gather a majority among the 20-member IAEA board. Members thought to be in favour of referral include: Australia, the EU, Japan, Peru, Singapore and the USA. Members thought to be against: Brazil, China, India, Russia, South Africa and Venezuela.

Only Russia and Venezuela have stated their firm intention to vote against referral, it is possible other members not in favour of the move could abstain as a block.

If Iran is referred to the Security Council, it is almost certain the country would recommence enrichment at full scale. Hamid Reza Asefi, a spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry, said that in a radical atmosphere, any decision is possible by Iran and warning have already been issued that Tehran might pull out of the NPT.

The IAEA board of governors might vote on the EU3 draft resolution on Friday and sources suggest that the EU would want widespread support for the move, a situation that is unlikely given Russian resistance to UN Security Council involvement.

IAEA director general Mohamed ElBaradei issued a statement on the Iranian issue calling for more disclosure and saying: “Two decades of concealed activities have created a situation that makes it imperative for the agency´s investigation to go beyond the confines of the safeguards agreement and the additional protocol. I therefore call on Iran to expand the transparency and confidence building measures it has already provided. By promptly responding to these agency requests, Iran would well serve both its interests and those of the international community.”

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