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U.N. nuclear agency head laments 'dead end' over Iran

IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei said world powers had made no progress over the last year in settling concerns about Iran's nuclear program. The agency's board is pondering resolutions on Tehran.

November 27, 2009|By Borzou Daragahi and Julia Damianova
  • Mohamed ElBaradei, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, attends a meeting of the Vienna-based United Nations organization's board of governors at which he said, "There has been no movement on remaining issues of concern which need to be clarified for the agency to verify the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program."
Mohamed ElBaradei, director-general of the International Atomic Energy… (Joe Klamar / AFP/Getty Images )

Reporting from Vienna and Beirut — In unusually direct language, the outgoing chief of the United Nations' nuclear watchdog agency on Thursday took Tehran to task for failing to resolve unanswered questions about its nuclear program and lamented a "dead end" in resolving the standoff between the Islamic Republic and world powers.

Mohamed ElBaradei, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said world powers had made no progress over the last year in settling concerns about Iran's nuclear program, which the West worries is meant to ultimately produce weapons but Tehran insists is for civilian purposes only.

"There has been no movement on remaining issues of concern which need to be clarified for the agency to verify the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program," he told the agency's board of governors, which is pondering several resolutions condemning Tehran. "It is now well over a year since the agency was last able to engage Iran in discussions about these outstanding issues. We have effectively reached a dead end."

Iran continues to defy five U.N. Security Council resolutions calling on it to stop enriching uranium, a process that can be used to produce fuel for an energy reactor or fissile material for a bomb. In September, Iran confirmed the existence of a hidden enrichment facility built inside a mountain near Qom, feeding worries that Tehran was operating a clandestine nuclear program beyond sight of international inspectors.

The Obama administration has endorsed a U.N.-backed plan under which the bulk of Iran's enriched uranium would be sent abroad in exchange for fuel rods for a Tehran medical reactor.

But after an initially positive reception, Iran has not responded definitively to the offer. This week, Iranian military leaders launched a five-day military exercise to practice defending the nuclear sites against U.S. or Israeli attacks.

ElBaradei said Iran's secrecy about the Qom site was "inconsistent with its obligations" under international law. "Iran's late declaration of the new facility reduces confidence in the absence of other nuclear facilities under construction in Iran which have not been declared to the agency," he told the 35-member board of governors meeting in Vienna.

Two Western diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Times that they had gathered a majority of votes on the board to adopt a resolution condemning Iran.

Iran's envoy to the IAEA dismissed any possible resolution against his country as beyond the mandate of the agency.

"We expect that the agency plays its essential role facilitating cooperation for technical cooperation and this environment of the agency should be depoliticized," Ali Asghar Soltanieh told reporters after the board's session. "Any gesture or move jeopardizing this spirit of cooperation, of technical cooperation in Vienna, will be counterproductive."

Others in Iran appeared to recognize trouble for Tehran in ElBaradei's remarks.

"The strongly worded statement would pave the way for a U.N. Security Council resolution against Iran which is to be issued by the end of the current Christian year," said a commentary posted by the Iranian online news website Tabnak.

daragahi@latimes.com

Damianova is a special correspondent.

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