Iran defiant as watchdog body again issues censure


VIENNA – The UN nuclear watchdog board censured Iran yesterday over mounting suspicions it is trying to develop nuclear weapons, but Tehran said the move would only strengthen its determination to press on with sensitive work.

Almost unanimously, the agency’s 35-nation board passed a resolution expressing “increasing concern” about Iran’s nuclear programme, after a UN report last week said the Islamic state appeared to have worked on designing an atom bomb.

“Iran will not bow to pressure,” said Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran’s envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

In a further sign of Tehran’s worsening ties with the UN body, he said Iran would boycott rare Middle East nuclear talks hosted by the agency next week.

In Washington, White House press secretary Jay Carney said the resolution exposed the “hollowness of Iran’s claims” that its nuclear programme was purely peaceful. The US would continue to pressure Tehran, including through sanctions.

“The whole world now knows that Iran not only sought to hide its uranium enrichment programme from the world for more than two decades, but also engaged in covert research and development related to activities that can have only one application: building a nuclear warhead,” he said.

But the compromise text – adopted by 32 votes for and only Cuba and Ecuador against – omitted any concrete punitive steps, reflecting Russian and Chinese opposition to cornering Iran. Indonesia abstained in the vote.

Moscow’s and Beijing’s reluctance to further punish Iran, a major oil producer, makes it clear western states will have to act on their own if they want to tighten sanctions on the country.

That in turn is likely to disappoint Israel, which has not ruled out military action against its arch-foe if diplomatic means fail to stop a nuclear programme which the Jewish state sees as an existential threat.

Last week’s IAEA report presented intelligence material indicating that Iran has undertaken research and experiments geared to developing a nuclear weapons capability. It has stoked tensions in the Middle East and redoubled calls in western capitals for stiffer sanctions against Tehran.

Iran showed no sign of backing down in the protracted dispute over its atomic activities, threatening to take legal action against the Vienna-based UN agency for issuing the hard-hitting report about Tehran’s nuclear programme.

Iran says it is enriching uranium only as fuel for nuclear power plants, not atomic weapons. It has dismissed the details in the IAEA report, obtained mainly from western intelligence agencies, as fabricated, and accuses the IAEA of a pro-Western slant. – (Reuters)