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IAEA holds first meeting under new chief Amano

The International Atomic Energy Agency meets to discuss a tough new report on Iran by its new director general Yukiya Amano this week.

world Updated: Feb 28, 2010 08:10 IST

The International Atomic Energy Agency meets to discuss a tough new report on Iran by its new director general Yukiya Amano this week.

Diplomats close to the UN watchdog say the IAEA's 35-member board of governors is unlikely to censure the Islamic republic over its contested nuclear work, despite some blunt words by Amano in his first report on the matter.

But the four-day meeting, also the first since Amano took over the reins on December 1, could well pave the way for a new round of sanctions by the United Nations Security Council in New York, the diplomats say.

"Fundamentally speaking, the issue is currently more one for New York rather than here," one western diplomat told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"Amano's report and the board's debate on it will form the basis for further consultations in New York."

The Iran dossier has been at the UN Security Council since February 2006 and the council has slapped three rounds of sanctions on Tehran since then for refusing to halt its nuclear activities until the IAEA can verify they are exclusively peaceful as Iran claims.

The United States and its Western allies believe the Islamic republic is seeking to build an atomic bomb under the guise of its civilian nuclear programme, a charge Iran vehemently denies.

Last week, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she hoped to see a UN Security Council resolution on new sanctions against Iran in the "next 30 to 60 days."

Of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, Russia and China have both been reluctant to vote for sanctions in the past.

However, Moscow, which had enjoyed close ties with Tehran for many years, has shown growing irritation with Iran in recent months and now says it no longer excludes new sanctions.

Only China still appears hesitant, saying there is still time for diplomacy.

The IAEA's board of governors already censured Iran at its last meeting in November, with just three countries voting against the motion.

Thus, diplomats believe it would not take much more to table another resolution so soon afterwards, diplomats said.

Nevertheless, "we'll probably have a series of pretty strong statements by member states and some regional groups expressing concern about what the DG's (director general's) report has outlined," according to a senior western diplomat.

The 10-page report expresses concern that Tehran may be "currently" working on a nuclear warhead and confirms that Iran has started enriching uranium to higher levels, theoretically bringing it close to the levels needed for an atomic bomb.

Iran insists it needs the higher-enriched uranium to fuel a research reactor which makes radioisotopes for medical purposes, such as the treatment of cancer, where the current fuel is expected to run out by the end of this year.

But Tehran has snubbed an IAEA-brokered deal that would have seen Russia and France fashion the fuel out of Iran's own stockpile of low-enriched uranium, currently estimated to be just over 2,065 kilogrammes.

The deal was drawn up last October and Iran has refused to issue a formal response to it since then.

Instead, just last week, Iran put forward a counter-proposal of its own for a simultaneous fuel swap on its own territory.

But that, in turn, is unacceptable for the US, Russia and France, and even the IAEA itself, because it would not entail the confidence-building measure of transferring Iran's stockpile of uranium out of the country for an extended period of time.

Diplomats say that even so-called Non-Aligned countries on the IAEA board are frustrated at Iran's refusal to sign up to what was seen as a win-win deal.

And with Iran continuing to enrich uranium in defiance of the UN, the deal has "a rapidly deteriorating half-life," one diplomat said.

"It's a deal that is of diminishing value for us because they continue to violate their international obligations in churning this stuff out."