- The Washington Times - Friday, June 20, 2003

A U.N. watchdog agency yesterday reprimanded Iran for its advanced nuclear program and called for tough new inspections. But it stopped short of U.S. hopes for a full-scale condemnation of what the Bush administration says is a clandestine drive by Tehran to build a nuclear bomb.

After three days of bargaining, the 35-nation board of governors of the Vienna, Austria-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) slammed Iran’s failure to come clean on its extensive nuclear program and strongly urged Iran to accept a tough new inspection regime.

Although less than Washington had originally sought, the IAEA statement was met with praise in the White House while a top Iranian official quickly rejected the idea of opening up further to global monitors.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the IAEA move was an “international reinforcement” of President Bush’s call Wednesday for a concerted global effort to prevent the Islamic government in Tehran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

“Iran needs to comply. Otherwise, the world will conclude that Iran may be producing nuclear weapons,” Mr. Fleischer said.

Kenneth Brill, U.S. ambassador to the IAEA, told reporters in Vienna that the Bush administration was “very satisfied” with yesterday’s action.

Iran, which says its nuclear activities are intended for civilian power needs, said yesterday’s vote represented a “failure” for the United States, according to Gholamreza Aghazadeh, head of the country’s Atomic Energy Agency.

The U.S.-backed resolution would have immediately referred the issue to the U.N. Security Council for action, a course many nonaligned countries represented at the IAEA were reluctant to take.

Mr. Aghazadeh said Iran would continue to block surprise inspections of its nuclear facilities unless the international community met its demands for aid and technology in developing civilian nuclear plants. Diplomats said there is little chance of such a deal being struck.

The standoff comes as the Islamic government in Iran finds itself facing continued domestic political dissent, including nightly clashes in many cities, between pro-democracy activists and hard-line elements loyal to the cleric-led regime.

Mr. Bush has expressed sympathy and support for the protesters, but U.S. officials deny Iranian charges that they have helped organize the demonstrations. Tensions between Tehran and Washington have sharpened in the aftermath of the Iraq war.

In Paris, an Iranian exile opposition group staged new protests after a crackdown by French officials this week.

A woman from the Mujahideen Khalq, or People’s Mujahideen, died yesterday after setting herself on fire in protest after mass arrests of the group’s leaders in Paris earlier this week. Similar self-immolations took place in Italy and Switzerland.

French police, who said the group was planning terrorist strikes against Iranian embassies in Europe, rounded up another 100 members of the exile group yesterday.

Miriam Rajkumar, a researcher with the Non-Proliferation Project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, called the IAEA statement a “balancing act” but said the Bush administration had made progress in focusing international pressure on Tehran.

“I don’t think the administration wanted to go into this fight alone, and it does seem there is a diplomatic consensus developing that Iran is a problem and that some questions need to be answered,” she said.

IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei “is a diplomat, and it would be very unusual for the agency to send this immediately to the Security Council for action. But you are hearing … strong statements from the European Union and the Russians that Iran has to respond to.”

British Foreign Minister Jack Straw said this week that a proposed EU-Iran trade deal could be put on ice if Tehran is not more forthcoming about its nuclear program.

Russia, whose support of a major Iranian nuclear-power plant being built in Bushehr has been a bone of contention with the Bush administration, called the IAEA statement a “balanced declaration” that notes Tehran’s promises to try to improve cooperation with the U.N. inspection agency.

But Moscow also has urged Iran in recent days to agree to an additional protocol under the Non-Proliferation Treaty to allow IAEA inspectors into sites currently declared off-limits.

Miss Rajkumar said the United States was laboring under a “credibility gap” in Vienna, facing widespread international skepticism after the failure to date to find extensive evidence backing U.S. and British claims about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

A series of revelations in recent months has heightened fears about Iran’s nuclear program. Iran admitted in May that it was building a heavy-water research reactor in Arak that could produce weapons-grade plutonium, and it also conducted a secret uranium-enrichment pilot program at a previously undisclosed facility in Natanz.

The Bush administration says Iran’s nuclear program is not needed in a country with huge oil deposits.

“If Iran is not pursuing nuclear weapons, why wouldn’t they cooperate fully and completely with the IAEA?” Mr. Fleischer asked yesterday.

The IAEA is set to issue a follow-up report based on its inspections in September, but diplomats said yesterday that the United States and its allies may try to speed the administrative process to keep pressure on Tehran.

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