US-Europe rift on Iran widens ahead of UN nuclear watchdog meeting
VIENNA (AFP) Nov 17, 2003
A rift between a hardline United States and a more conciliatory Europe over how to deal with Iran's hiding suspect nuclear activities widened Monday, only three days before the UN nuclear watchdog meets to decide on whether to be tough on Iran.

A keenly awaited top-secret, draft resolution from Britain, France and Germany avoids citing Iran for non-compliance with international nuclear safeguards despite almost two decades of hidden suspicious activities, diplomats told AFP Monday.

"It's very weak. It does not use the word non-compliance and it does not in any way refer to (bringing the matter before) the UN Security Council," a diplomat said about the text being prepared for a meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)'s 35-nation board of governors in Vienna Thursday.

The IAEA is to decide whether to judge Iran in non-compliance with the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) after 18 years of covert nuclear activities, a determination that automatically takes the issue to the Security Council.

The Council could then impose punishing sanctions.

IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei said in a report last week that while Iran has violated international safeguards by making plutonium and enriched uranium, there was so far no evidence it is trying to make a nuclear bomb.

The United States wants a non-compliance resolution but most countries do not back it.

The majority of states, including non-aligned and Latin American countries, think like Britain, France and Germany that Iran should not face possible UN sanctions but be encouraged to cooperate, diplomats said.

In Washington, US Secretary of State Colin Powell said a European Union evaluation that Tehran had been "honest" with the IAEA had gone too far.

"I wouldn't have gone quite as far," Powell told reporters in reference to the judgement on Iran's cooperation presented earlier Monday by top EU diplomat Javier Solana.

He reaffirmed the US position that ElBaradei's report proved Washington's contention that Tehran had been seeking to develop atomic weapons.

Britain, France and Germany apparently do not agree.

Their draft report released Monday at the IAEA and parts of which diplomats read to AFP speaks only of "failures to meet safeguards obligations," said diplomats who asked not to be identified.

It "calls on Iran to give full cooperation to the agency in implementing Iran's declared new policy of full disclosure," they said.

A diplomat said the draft was clearly a working document, with much discussion and undoubtedly revision to take place before the IAEA meeting.

But he said "it's a text that doesn't formally recognize 18 years of lying."

Another diplomat said: "This can only appease the countries which don't have a real and clear commitment with the non-proliferation regime."

Spokesmen for Britain, France and Germany were not immediately available for comment.

A diplomat said the Americans were holding off on offering a counter-resolution since they do not think they have a consensus for their position.

The British, French and German foreign ministers won on a visit to Tehran on October 21 key concessions, including Iran's full disclosure of its past nuclear activities, a pledge to accept tougher inspections and a suspension of the enrichment of uranium.

Diplomats, as well as Iran's ambassador to the IAEA, said a deal was struck in Tehran that Iran would be rewarded for cooperation by being spared a citation for non-compliance before the Security Council.

The Iranian ambassador, Ali Akbar Salehi, has warned that a non-compliance finding would "escalate the issue into an international crisis."

Diplomats said Iran could back off from its pledge to sign an additional protocol on unannounced inspections or could resume uranium enrichment, a process that produces nuclear fuel but also possible weapons-grade material.

Iranian security chief Hasan Rowhani said in Brussels Monday: "There is no justification, no reason to refer Iran's peaceful nuclear programme" to the Security Council.