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Decision on Iran N-issue today

Members will deliver a verdict on whether or not to refer Iran to UNSC.

india Updated: Feb 03, 2006 14:41 IST

After a day of intense deliberations, members of the UN's atomic watchdog are to deliver on Friday a verdict on whether or not to refer Iran to the UN Security Council over its nuclear programme.

The 35-member board of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) spent much of Thursday listening to the major players in the standoff over Iran's nuclear programme put across their points of view.

They were considering a resolution, agreed on Monday by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany, to refer Iran back to the council.

The resolution accuses Iran of failing to cooperate fully with the IAEA, of concealing its nuclear programme and of possessing a document related to the construction of nuclear weapons components.

The EU-3 - comprising Britain, France and Germany - Russia, the US, China, Iran and the non-aligned states, as well as several other members on Thursday presented their arguments to the board of governors.

IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei emphasised that the referral to the UN Security Council was simply about regaining trust in the Islamic state, and said that Iran would have until March 6, when he delivers his assessment of the situation, to come back into the fold.

However, a senior official close to the IAEA said that the Security Council could decide to do nothing in March, as it chose to do with North Korea.

Iran in January broke IAEA seals on equipment for enriching uranium, which can also be used for nuclear weapons, and ElBaradei said that all enrichment activities must cease.

Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, countered this request by saying that nuclear technology without enrichment would be "pointless".

"The bottom line is that my government enjoys popular support and would never retreat from pursuing nuclear technology," ISNA news agency quoted Ahmadinejad as saying during a visit to Bushehr, site of the nuclear power plant in southern Iran.

ElBaradei urged Iran to take advantage of a Russian scheme to enrich uranium for the nation's civil nuclear needs, calling it "window of opportunity" and saying that none of the board members denied Iran's right to peaceful nuclear technology.

The Russian ambassador to the IAEA, Grigory Berdennikov, indicated that his country - despite threats from Iran that ongoing talks on the proposed enrichment deal would be cancelled in face of a referral - would pass the resolution, as did the US and the EU-3.

However, the US ambassador, Gregory Schulte, said that his country - one of the most vocal supporters of referring Iran - was not seeking any kind of sanctions or punitive action and only wanted to take diplomacy to "the next level".

China's position was not so clear, while an IAEA spokesman said that Syria, Cuba - and possibly Venezuela - would vote 'no'.

Non-aligned members on Thursday called for all states to "avoid any undue pressure or interference in the IAEA's activities".

Iranian officials, including the president, the chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, and the ambassador to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, have all made it clear that referral would lead to the suspension of all voluntary cooperation with the watchdog, and that large-scale enrichment would take place.

The meeting was adjourned on Thursday to allow further unofficial discussion, and the next phase was set to begin on Friday with a meeting of the non-aligned states.