- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 2, 2005

U.S. officials yesterday accused Iran of obstructing efforts to uncover its nuclear-arms programs and said time was running out for the international community to act.

Jackie Sanders, U.S. representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, told the Geneva-based agency’s board that Tehran was “cynically manipulating” international nonproliferation agreements in a secret drive to acquire the know-how for nuclear weapons.

The 35-nation IAEA board “cannot ignore forever its statutory responsibility to report this matter” to the U.N. Security Council for potential sanctions against Iran, she added.

Iran has insisted its nuclear programs are intended for civilian purposes, but the Bush administration case was bolstered by the IAEA staff report to the board Tuesday, which detailed a number of instances where Iranian officials had blocked inspectors from key sites or refused to provide information requested by the agency.

“Iran continues to evade and obstruct and otherwise further its own isolation in the international community. And the message to take away from it all is that it’s not going to work,” State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said.

With France, Britain and Germany collaborating on a diplomatic push to ease the Iranian crisis, Mr. Ereli denied yesterday that the United States had set a “timetable” for resolving the crisis. Iranian and European negotiators are set for another round of talks beginning March 14. European diplomats said that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during her just-concluded trip to London discussed the idea of offering Iran incentives to end its secret nuclear activities. Miss Rice will brief President Bush at the White House on her European talks today.

One potential carrot: Washington would drop its opposition to Iran’s long-standing application to join the World Trade Organization.

But U.S. diplomats in Geneva are pressing for a new interim IAEA report on Iran to be completed before the next board meeting in June. Another critical report would only increase the pressure on the board to refer the matter to the Security Council.

Even Mohamed ElBaradei, the Egyptian who heads the IAEA and has clashed with the Bush administration in the past, said yesterday that the “ball is very much in Iran’s court to come clean.”

Iran’s chief negotiator, Hassan Rohani, told Iranian state television Tuesday that the Bush administration was seeking to move the matter to the U.N. Security Council because the United States was isolated in the IAEA discussions in Geneva.

“We are not interested in being referred to the Security Council, but we are not afraid of the council either,” Mr. Rohani said, “because we have been acting within the framework of international rules.”

The United States has taken a markedly tougher line than the three European powers on Iran, although both sides say they are working toward the same end in forcing Tehran to give up its nuclear programs.

But one sign that the Bush administration is in the distinct minority came yesterday when the IAEA deferred a decision on whether to offer Mr. ElBaradei a third four-year term. Diplomats in Geneva said Mr. ElBaradei enjoyed overwhelming support for his bid, but that the United States still was resisting his candidacy.

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