Iran says committed to NPT, but yet to overcome anger over IAEA ultimatum
TEHRAN (AFP) Sep 17, 2003
Iran may be seeking to dampen fears it could follow the path of North Korea and pull out of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, but officials here have yet to swallow their anger over what they see as an unfair ultimatum issued by the UN's atomic watchdog.

"Iran is fully committed to its NPT responsibilities, not only because of its contractual obligation but also because of its religious and ethical considerations," Iranian vice president and atomic energy agency chief Gholamreza Aghazadeh said on Monday.

His comments in Vienna to a general conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) 136 member states came after widespread anger in Iran over a resolution that gives the Islamic republic until October 31 to clear up widespread suspicions it is using an atomic energy programme as a cover for nuclear weapons development.

The resolution, passed by the IAEA's board of governors last Friday after intensive lobbying by the United States, gives Iran just over a month to answer all the IAEA's questions regarding its enrichment activities, provide unrestricted access to IAEA inspectors and provide a detailed list of its nuclear-related imports.

One of the IAEA's demands is that Iran sign an additional protocol to the NPT, which would allow inspectors to make surprise visits to suspect sites.

Failure to satisfy the IAEA could see Iran declared in violation of the NPT on November 20, when the IAEA's board of governors convenes again in Vienna. The issue could be referred to the UN Security Council, leading to the possible imposition of sanctions.

Although voicing its commitment to the IAEA, Iran is showing no sign of being prepared to bow to the resolution's demands.

"Our slogan for the atomic bomb and weapons of mass destruction is no, no, no, but for advanced technology including peaceful nuclear technology is yes, yes, yes," Khatami said, echoing the view here that Iran is once again being victimised by old arch-enemy the United States.

"No one can stop us from our path," he said.

Iran's official position on the resolution has been spelled out by the foreign ministry, who stated that "the nature of our cooperation with the IAEA is under consideration."

There is certainly a vigorous debate underway, and while most officials here see the IAEA's step as an assault on Iran's sovereignty, there appears to be no agreement on how to react.

Iran's powerful former president, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, has presented the resolution as being part of a US plot aimed at stopping the Muslim world from being "equipped with up-to-date science and technology."

Grand Ayatollah Hossein Noori-Hamedani, a top Iranian Shiite cleric, said the resolution was a "planned conspiracy in order to humiliate Islam", and said "all the world should hear Iran's message of not accepting humiliation."

State television has dubbed the resolution as "directed by the United States and the Zionist regime (Israel)".

Conservative MP Akbar Alami, a member of the parliament's national security and foreign policy committee, said Iran's woes were "due to its membership of the NPT", and that "therefore Iran's membership of the NPT should be annulled."

The ultra-hardline Jomhuri Eslami newspaper wrote that Tehran "should not pay any attention to the US, the Europeans and international organisations ... and accept that the right path is the one that the North Koreans have chosen."

The hardline Kayhan newspaper, which also advocated pulling out of the NPT, accused European Union countries and the United States of seeking to "completely disarm Iran and convert it to a weak and feeble country like Iraq in order to overrun it."

Iran's embattled reformist camp, which still advocates continuing cooperation with the IAEA, has also rejected the resolution -- meaning that finding a solution to the impasse that satisfies the IAEA appears to be unlikely.

The Islamic Iran Participation Front (IIPF), Iran's main reformist group, said in a statement that "no dignified Iranian can accept the tone and content of of such a resolution".

But nevertheless, the party said that it "does not consider accepting the protocol and clarifying the country's nuclear activities to be against the national interest".

And Mohsen Mirdamadi, the head of parliament's national security and foreign policy committee, has indicated that given the anger sparked by the resolution, a way out of the crisis may be impossible.

"The way the IAEA has dealt with Iran is not acceptable for anyone in Iran," the state news agency IRNA quoted him as saying. He said that the issue had now become one of national prestige, making it "more complex and more difficult to solve."