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IAEA verdict on Iran issue today

The IAEA had given one-month for resolving the nuke crisis diplomatically.

india Updated: Mar 06, 2006 11:57 IST

The UN atomic watchdog was set to meetin Viennaon Monday to open the door to possible UN Security Council action against Iran over fears it is seeking nuclear weapons.

As Tehran struck a defiant tone, a top US official warned of "tangible and painful consequences" if it does not heed demands to halt uranium enrichment.

US Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton said on Sunday the international community should "use all tools at our disposal to stop the threat that the Iranian regime poses."

"The Iranian regime must be made aware that if it continues down the path of international isolation there will be tangible and painful consequences," Bolton told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

But the Islamic republic's top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani said Iran would not freeze small-scale nuclear fuel work even if referred to the world body.

"Going to the Security Council will certainly not make Iran go back on research and development," Larijani told reporters in Tehran, adding that Iran would retaliate by pressing ahead with large-scale uranium enrichment.

Larijani said, however, that Iran was not intending to use oil as a weapon in the dispute or quit the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) -- but warned this could change if the crisis worsened.

Iran claims it has the right to enrich uranium for nuclear reactor fuel as part of a peaceful energy programme but the United States and Europe fear it will use enriched uranium to make atom bombs.

The board of governors of the watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency meets this week in Vienna to consider a report from IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei that says Iran is defying IAEA calls to halt enrichment and to cooperate fully with agency inspectors.

The issue is expected to come up on Tuesday or Wednesday.

The IAEA's 35-nation board reported Iran on February 4 to the Security Council but left a month open for diplomacy, until the Council's receipt of ElBaradei's report.

"I think the Security Council will have to have a serious discussion about what the next steps will be," US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Saturday.

But Rice said there was no need to rush to sanctions.

The Security Council could adopt a "presidential declaration" calling on Tehran to heed IAEA calls, diplomats said.

Washington will ask the Council to give Iran a 30-day deadline to comply with international demands over its nuclear programme, the Washington Post reported on Saturday.

If Tehran does not comply within 30 days, the US will propose that it face "severe diplomatic pressures", the Post said, including travel bans on Iranian officials, an embargo on Iran's oil exports, or other economic sanctions.

But such sanctions could run into opposition from key Iranian allies Russia and China, which have vetoes on the Council.

French President Jacques Chirac, meanwhile, said in Saudi Arabia that it was not too late for Iran to strike a deal if it agrees to suspend uranium enrichment, an agreement that failed to materialise at a meeting in Vienna on Friday between Iran and EU negotiators Britain, France and Germany.

Iran last month started a 10-centrifuge research cascade at a facility in Natanz, signalling it was pushing ahead with enrichment.

Diplomats close to the IAEA said they did not expect there to be a resolution at this week's board meeting, since the board will be applying the resolution from the February 4 session.

The five permanent Security Council members plus Germany, which are all on the IAEA board, may however issue a statement for Iran to honour the agency's calls, the diplomat said.

Iran is lobbying with both the Europeans and Russia for a last-minute compromise "in order to keep the issue within the IAEA", and avoid Council action, a diplomat said.

The compromise would allow Iran to do small-scale enrichment work while pledging a two-year moratorium on full-scale enrichment that is more of a proliferation risk.

But the Europeans on Friday said Iran must first suspend all enrichment, including research, in order to negotiate on getting benefits in a deal guaranteeing a peaceful nuclear programme.

Russia is seeking a different compromise in which Iran would enrich on Russian soil, so that it would not get the technology considered the "break-out capacity" for making atomic weapons.

This compromise may include a promise to let Iran run a cascade of 164 centrifuges for small-scale research but the West would oppose this.

Meanwhile, acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had strong words on Sunday for Tehran, saying that every measure should be taken to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

"Iran is a major threat to all the civilized world," Olmert told AIPAC in a videotaped message. "We have to take all necessary measures" to stop Iran obtaining nuclear weapons, he said.

First Published: Mar 06, 2006 09:05 IST