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US Push To Cut IAEA Aid To Iran Faces Opposition January 16, 2007

Posted by notapundit in US News, World News.
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VIENNA (AP)–A U.S. push to halve U.N. nuclear agency aid to Iran as part of Security Council sanctions is facing opposition from traditional U.S. allies in the E.U. as well as from developing nations, diplomats said Tuesday.

Resistance from developing nations on the board of the International Atomic Energy Agency was expected. Most of them usually support Tehran when it asserts it has the right to develop its uranium enrichment technology, and they fear a precedent that could hurt their access to IAEA technical cooperation if Iran’s programs are pared back.

But from Washington’s point of view, any European opposition would be worrisome. It could erode attempts to present a unified Western front on how to deal with Iran’s nuclear defiance and open chinks that could be exploited by Tehran in its attempts to weaken international opposition to its attempts to enrich uranium – a process that can create fuel for energy but also the fissile material for nuclear warheads.

“The Americans said at least 50% of the technical cooperation programs now in place with Iran will not go through” an IAEA review of the more than 15 projects now in place, said a diplomat accredited to the IAEA, one of seven who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity for discussing confidential information.

Such a stance is opposed by Germany, which holds the rotating E.U. presidency, and many other E.U. nations, the diplomat said, adding that – unless Washington moderates its stance – confrontation is inevitable at the next IAEA board meeting in March.

The U.S., Russia, China, the U.K., France and Germany all want Iran to mothball its enrichment program and have acted as a group in trying to engage Tehran on the issue. But their approaches and priorities have differed over the past year – resulting in often visible strains in what is meant to be a joint initiative.

Russian and Chinese reluctance to slap harsh sanctions on Tehran – as initially demanded by Washington – have created the greatest pressures. Both nations share economic and strategic interests with Iran.

In the most recent reflection of differences, Russian Defense Minister Ivan Ivanov said Tuesday that Moscow has sent air defense missiles to Iran, despite U.S. complaints.

But problems also have surfaced in the ranks of European allies, with Germany traditionally the least hawkish and the French recently nudging the U.K. aside to become the most loyal backers of the U.S.

Differences over how severely to punish Tehran for its refusal to suspend enrichment led to months of disputes before agreement was reached last month on a Security Council resolution imposing limited sanctions that fell short of the harsher measures the U.S. had pushed for.

The sanctions include a review of technical aid to Iran – programs meant to bolster the peaceful use of nuclear energy in medicine, agriculture or power generation.

With IAEA Chief Mohamed ElBaradei planning to file a report containing agency recommendations on what – if any – programs to cut, several diplomats said jockeying had already begun between hard-liners led by the U.S. and seeking broad reductions and other IAEA members with more moderate views.

But a U.S. diplomat disputed that there were major differences between the Europeans and the U.S., saying both wanted “an unambiguous implementation” of the Security Council resolution.

Iran’s chief IAEA delegate, Ali Ashgar Soltanieh, declined comment on the issue beyond telling The Associated Press the Security Council resolution had “no legal basis.”

Already in November, the 35-nation board of the agency indefinitely suspended an IAEA project that would have helped Iran put safety measures in place for a heavy water reactor that – once completed – will produce plutonium, another potential pathway to nuclear arms. That decision, however, was relatively straightforward, considering the Security Council had already indirectly called for an end to construction of the reactor.

In contrast, most of the more than 15 projects up for review when the board next meets March 5 are for programs that have less obvious potential weapons applications.

They include cancer therapy programs and requests for help in international nuclear licensing procedures. But waste management projects are also among them, and the diplomats said the U.S. – backed by France, Australia and other allies – wanted those struck because nuclear waste from reactors could be reprocessed into weapons-grade material.

Last month’s Security Council resolution exempted any mention of Bushehr, the Iranian nuclear reactor being built by the Russians as a condition for enlisting Moscow’s backing for sanctions. One of the diplomats said a high-ranking Iranian delegation was expected Monday at IAEA headquarters in Vienna to discuss technical aid for the project.

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