Nuclear talks stall as US hardens line on Tehran
September 16, 2004/The Guardian
The US was at loggerheads with Britain, France and Germany yesterday over how to deter Iran from developing a military nuclear programme.
The row paralysed a crucial board meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna.
America has balked at European attempts to give Iran one last chance to dispel doubts about its 20-year nuclear pro-gramme, and insisted on a formula that would see Tehran reported to the UN security council for sanctions unless it complied with the IAEA.
The session was called off yesterday and last night diplomats said the meeting could end without agreement tomorrow.
The row came as satellite images cast fresh light on Tehran's nuclear activities.
The pictures show that a site southeast of Tehran may be being used for research, testing and production of nuclear weapons, according to a leading independent US nuclear expert, David Albright.
He told Reuters the Parchin complex was "a logical candidate for a nuclear weapons-related site, particularly one involved in researching and developing high explosive components for an implosion-type nuclear weapon".
The site "has a potential that would warrant [UN inspectors] going there," said Mr Albright, from the Institute for Science and International Security, an independent thinktank.
His remarks will likely be seized on by the Americans in their tussle with Europe over how to deal with the Islamic Republic.
Washington says that the European troika are being too accommodating towards Iran, even though the Europeans have stiffened their rhetoric in a draft resolution calling for Tehran "immediately and verifiably" to suspend all parts of its uranium enrichment programme.
The draft says the row has dragged on long enough, and that when the nuclear watchdog's board next meets in November, it should reach a final verdict on what to do.
That is too soft for the Americans, who are demanding tougher wording, setting a deadline for compliance and making Iran's referral to the security council in New York automatic if it defies the ultimatum.
A rival formula submitted by the US said: "It is essential and urgent that Iran remedy all failures identified by the agency ... no later than October 31."
The EU draft also asks the IAEA's chief, Mohamed ElBaradei, to deliver a comprehensive verdict on Iran's nuclear activities by November, including "his best assessment of the implications" - in plain language, whether Iran is running a secret bomb programme.
It is unlikely that Dr El-Baradei will be able to deliver such a statement within six weeks. Failure to rule out a covert Iranian military project could be enough to demand sanctions.
The American line is being dictated by John Bolton, the hawkish under-secretary of state for counter-proliferation, who was in Europe last week and who was consulted on the EU draft last Friday in Geneva.
While the Europeans and Americans have long been at odds on how to deal with Iran, the differences have narrowed because the Europeans believe Iran reneged on a deal struck in Tehran last October. The Iranians accuse the Europeans of failing to live up to their side of the bargain.
The transatlantic row is about different means to the same end - getting Iran to abandon its covert development of a sophisticated uranium enrichment programme which can produce bomb-grade nuclear fuel if Tehran so chooses.