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. UN atomic agency almost halves aid to Iran
VIENNA, Feb 9 (AFP) Feb 09, 2007
The UN atomic watchdog agency has fully or partly halted almost half its aid programmes to Iran in support of UN calls for Tehran to allay fears it seeks nuclear weapons, an IAEA report said Friday.

"It is a substantive measure ... as aid is a valuable instrument for Iran," said a senior official close to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The official said the IAEA was trying to comply with the United Nation Security Council's wish "to send a strong message to Iran."

The Council on December 23 imposed sanctions on Iran for continuing to enrich uranium and called for cuts in the IAEA's aid to the Iranian nuclear programme.

Out of 55 national and regional projects that the IAEA has with Iran, 22, or 40 percent, were either totally or partially frozen, said the confidential report, a copy of which was obtained by AFP.

Though the measures have been taken the IAEA's 35-nation board of governors could alter them when it reviews the report in a meeting in Vienna starting March 5.

But the report "recommended that the board . . . concur with the Secretariat's understanding of the actions required."

The report and meeting come amid escalating tensions over Iran's nuclear programme, particularly its production of enriched uranium -- which can be nuclear reactor fuel but also in highly refined form the explosive core of atom bombs.

Iran says its programme is a peaceful effort to generate nuclear-powered electricity but the United States says Tehran is using this as a cover for secret development of atomic weapons.

The United States had called for a strict interpretation of the Security Council's resolution on Iran, according to a US briefing paper distributed at IAEA headquarters here and read to AFP.

But a non-aligned diplomat close to the IAEA said that "political interference in aid programmes is not something developing nations will look at positively."

Still, most diplomats expect there to be only limited debate at the IAEA board meeting.

The Security Council resolution said states should stop aid to Iran which might help it "make nuclear reactor fuel" or develop "nuclear weapon delivery systems."

The resolution says "technical cooperation provided to Iran by the IAEA ... shall only be for food, agricultural, medical, safety or other humanitarian purposes."

A key role of the IAEA, besides its verification mission, is to promote the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

The IAEA in January halted some of its technical aid to Iran following the adoption of the UN resolution.

And in November last year, the IAEA rejected Tehran's request for technical help in building a heavy-water reactor in Arak that the West fears could provide plutonium, also a possible nuclear weapons material.

The IAEA report Friday approved one national project to help Iran "prepare therapeutic sources, radiocolloid particles and radiopharmaceuticals for cancer treatment," saying this was "entirely for medical purposes."

But it said no to a project "to strengthen ... capabilities ... for provision of safe and reliable nuclear power generation capacities in the future," saying this was only "for safety purposes," which is outside what is allowed in the UN resolution.

A regional project for "standardized educational and training programs in nuclear sciences and applications" was to be "assessed on a case by case basis" to cull out helping Iranians get skills that could be used to make nuclear weapons, according to the report.

But the resolution had ruled blocking IAEA helping Iran with the construction of its first nuclear reactor in Bushehr, a project for which Iranian ally and key trading partner Russia has a billion-dollar contract.

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