- The Washington Times - Friday, November 21, 2003

VIENNA, Austria (AP) — An American envoy said yesterday that the U.N. nuclear agency is going too easy on Iran, accusing Tehran of “violations and lies” and provoking an unusually sharp response from the agency’s director.

Diplomats called the exchange unprecedented in the more than two decades since the International Atomic Energy Agency’s 35-nation board of governors began meeting as the agency’s executive body.

It reflected tensions dividing the board as it wrestles with the language of a resolution that would balance U.S. demands for a harsh response to Iran’s past nuclear cover-ups and Europe’s calls for milder language in recognition of Tehran’s recent pledges to cooperate.

After two days of failing to reach a consensus, the board adjourned its meeting until Wednesday in hopes of finding a compromise to bridge the trans-Atlantic divide. IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming told reporters the pause would give a chance for high-level negotiations.

Addressing delegates, U.S. envoy Kenneth Brill suggested a statement in IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei’s report on Iran was “questionable” in saying there was no “evidence” that Iran had tried to build nuclear weapons.

No “proof” would have been the proper phrase, Mr. Brill said.

Mr. ElBaradei dismissed the argument as “disingenuous,” according to diplomats inside the meeting. “In our dictionary, evidence is the same as proof,” he said.

Miss Fleming said Mr. ElBaradei “takes issue with the U.S. accusation that the agency has threatened its credibility,” adding, “We believe that we are impartial and credible and that actually our credibility has been enhanced.”

Earlier this week, Mr. ElBaradei appeared at one point to side with the United States in a dispute with European powers, saying a resolution proposed by Britain, France and Germany was not strong enough.

Mr. Brill yesterday assailed Iran for “violations and lies” that stretched over 18 years, including enriching uranium, processing small amounts of plutonium and other activities that Washington says point to a weapons agenda.

“Iran systematically and deliberately deceived the IAEA and the international community about these issues for year after year after year,” he said. The purpose, he said, was “the pursuit of nuclear weapons.”

Such conduct by Iran “constitutes noncompliance with its safeguards obligations,” Mr. Brill said. The language indirectly accused Iran of violating the nuclear-weapons Nonproliferation Treaty — an act that normally results in U.N. Security Council involvement.

Earlier, after hours of delay, Iran submitted a letter to the board agreeing to open its nuclear programs to pervasive spot inspections instead of waiting until seeing the text of the resolution.

But diplomats who asked for anonymity said Iran continued to insist it had the right to withdraw its promise to accept the inspections if the resolution made reference to Security Council involvement or contained other language it found unacceptable.

Such a move, however, would almost guarantee a strong resolution that might meet even U.S. wishes to have Iran declared in violation of safeguard agreements — triggering possible Security Council involvement.

Asked what links there were between a soft resolution and his country’s acceptance of wider inspections as well as its decision to suspend uranium enrichment — both board demands — Ali Akbar Salehi, the chief Iranian delegate, said, “They all go together.”

“We think that the American delegation — or the U.S. as a whole — is sort of a hostage to its own accusations,” he told reporters. “And I think the majority of the board are looking forward to see that this … is resolved peacefully.”

He suggested that Germany, France and Britain — the chief backers of a relatively soft resolution — had pledged to keep the issue from going to the Security Council if Iran continued to cooperate with agency efforts to probe its nuclear past and present.

“It’s not only a promise on their side; this is a promise of every thoughtful, wise and prudent member of the board,” he said.

Before the discussion moved to the board members’ capitals, a draft discussed in Vienna and quoted to the Associated Press by a senior diplomat would have given the board the right to immediately call an emergency session should any evidence surface that Iran was guilty of “significant failures.”

Mr. ElBaradei has said he wanted a strongly worded report that nonetheless stops short of asking for Security Council involvement.

Determining whether Iran tried to build nuclear weapons “will take some time and much verification effort,” Mr. ElBaradei told the board.

On Thursday, diplomats speaking on condition of anonymity told the AP that the agency identified Russia, China and Pakistan as likely sources for equipment that could be used by Iran for nuclear-weapons development. They gave no other details.

Iran says traces of weapons-grade uranium discovered earlier by IAEA inspectors were inadvertently imported on material it purchased abroad.

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