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ElBaradei: Give Iran 'One Last Chance' Before Sanctions

Kenneth R. Timmerman

Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2005

VIENNA, Austria -- International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Mohammad ElBaradei is pressing members of the agency's board of governors to give Iran "one last chance" before sending Iran's case to the United Nations Security Council for possible sanctions, IAEA officials and European diplomats told Newsmax in Vienna.

The decision to refer Iran to the UN Security Council could come on Thanksgiving Day, when the IAEA Board of Governors has its next scheduled meeting to discuss "new information" discovered by inspectors in Iran, the officials said.

Read the full story of Iran’s twenty-year record of cheat and retreat in Countdown to Crisis: the Coming Nuclear Showdown with Iran. Available from

ElBaradei discussed a potential "face-saving" deal European negotiators could offer Tehran during meetings with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice in Washington on Tuesday, U.S. and IAEA officials said.

"Our message to Iran is that they have an opportunity to influence the timing and nature of the report to the UN Security Council," a State Department official said.

Portions of the offer, which the Europeans have not embraced, were leaked to the New York Times, which reported on Thursday that Iran would be allowed to continue to produce uranium hexafluoride gas (UF6), the feedstock used for uranium enrichment, as long as it exported the product to Russia where it would be enriched to produce reactor-grade fuel.

But a European official directly involved in the negotiations with Tehran denied that the Russia proposal was even on the table, and said the New York Times report was false.

"There is no offer," he told Newsmax in Vienna today. "Why should we make an offer? The Iranians must come to us" since they were the ones who had reneged on their promises to suspend all enrichment-related activities.

Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice also denied the New York Times report. "There is no U.S.-European proposal for the Iranians. I want to say that categorically," she said on Thursday.

An IAEA official present at the Washington, DC meetings where the idea was discussed found other inaccuracies in the New York Times account. "The idea is to allow Iran to make uranium tetrachloride (UF4) - not UF6 - and to keep it under strict IAEA monitoring," the official said. "A moratorium or a total ban on all fuel cycle activities is a non-starter, because of [Iranian] national pride."

The U.S. continues to push for a "renewed suspension" of all nuclear fuel processing and enrichment in Iran, a State Department official said. "This is the bar that has been set by the IAEA, and these are our instructions: Iran must renew suspension, renew cooperation with the IAEA, and resume negotiations with the EU3."

The IAEA believes Iran could agree to limit work at Isfahan to UF4 because trial production runs of UF6, which is made from UF4, have been "crap," a senior IAEA official said. "The quality is just no good. This will allow Iran to save face."

The European official, who had just emerged from a meeting in Vienna of the political directors of the three European Union countries (France, Germany and the UK), insisted that ElBaradei had not presented the U.S. offer as a done deal or even as an informal proposal. "Lots of ideas are being discussed," he said.

He called it "something someone wants to float. A trial balloon." European and U.S. officials insisted that it was not up to ElBaradei to lobby the board or to float proposals, but to report the results of IAEA inspections in Iran. "Only the board makes decisions," a State Department official said.

An IAEA official present at the meeting in Washington said that Secretary of State Rice had asked ElBaradei to be "the messenger boy" to Tehran. "Since the Secretary General would like to find a solution that does not send Iran's case to the UN Security Council, he had no problem with that," the official said.

Diplomats in Vienna speculated that the U.S. offer, which would allow Iran to invest in an enrichment facility in Russia but not to enrich uranium itself, was designed to win Russian support at the Security Council should Iran veto the offer, which is expected.

The EU-3 are working on a non-paper they will circulate before the Nov. 24 board meeting that "lays out our red lines and the principles that must underpin" an eventual agreement, the EU official said.

The IAEA is trying to convince Board of Governors members that referring Iran to the UN Security Council could prompt Iran's radical new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to expel IAEA inspectors from Iran.

"It's much better to keep IAEA inspectors in Iran than to send Iran to the UN Security Council in New York without a strategy," a top IAEA official told Newsmax in Vienna. "They did that three years ago with North Korea. And look where we are now"

Iran's new nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, has threatened to toss out IAEA inspectors if the Board of Governors refers their case to the UN Security Council for possible sanctions. Larijani, a Revolutionary Guards intelligence officer, once headed Iran's state broadcasting agency.

"At least now Iran is respecting the Additional Protocol," the IAEA official said. The Additional Protocol requires Iran to provide extensive information on previously clandestine nuclear facilities and to allow international inspectors to visit undeclared sites throughout the country.

Since signing the Additional Protocol on December 18, 2003, however, Iran has delayed particularly sensitive inspections for six months and more.

In the case of a suspected uranium enrichment plant in Lavisan-Shian, a Revolutionary Guards base in northern Tehran, Iran razed the suspect facilities and carted away the rubble before it would let the IAEA onto the site.

Despite the clear pattern of cheat and retreat, the EU-3 agrees with ElBaradei that some solution must be found to prevent sending Iran to the UN Security at the end of this month.

"So we go to New York, the inspectors get tossed out, and we get a war. Then what have we achieved?" the European official said.

Bush administration officials argue that Iran has violated its safeguards agreements with the atomic agency so flagrantly and so often that its actions constitute a breach of Article II of the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).

Article II contains an absolute, irrevocable pledge by signatory states to abandon nuclear weapons research of any kind. In exchange, the nuclear weapons states agree to transfer nuclear technology to them for civilian purposes.

The problem is that the technology needed to enrich uranium to four percent to fuel civilian power reactors, is identical to what's needed to enrich uranium to 93 percent to make weapons.

"Iran argues that it is promoting the peaceful use of nuclear technology. It is not. It is subverting peaceful use to pursue a dangerous course," U.S. ambassador Greg Scholte told the IAEA board in August.

"Iran has no need for its heavy investment in an indigenous fuel cycle. Unless, of course, it wants nuclear weapons. Iran doesn't even have enough natural uranium to enrich for a civil nuclear program. But it has enough for a small stockpile of nuclear weapons," Scholte added. Brazil, Japan, Germany, Holland, Australia and other non-weapons states also have built fuel cycle facilities. Until now, the IAEA has only placed enrichment plants under safeguards, not uranium conversion plants such as the Isfahan plant in Iran.

"With Iran, we realized that mastery of the fuel cycle makes you a virtual nuclear weapons state," the senior IAEA official said. "That was a wake-up call for all of us." It also explains why the IAEA is insisting that Iran's conversion facility in Isfahan remain under safeguards.

The IAEA has no authority to judge breaches of the NPT. Only the UN Security Council has that authority. "It is important to refer Iran's case to the Security Council, which alone has the legitimacy and the authority of the international community," former French nuclear policy analyst Therese Delpech told a conference in Washington, DC last week.

Copyright 2005, Kenneth R. Timmerman


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