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. IAEA report bolsters case for new Iran sanctions: US diplomats
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 22 (AFP) Feb 23, 2008
A report by the UN nuclear watchdog on Iran's suspect atomic program bolsters the case for the Security Council adopting new sanctions against Tehran, hopefully late next week, senior US diplomats said Friday.

The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said earlier Friday it had made "quite good progress" in its long-running probe into Iran's disputed nuclear drive, but was still not in a position to offer a verdict on Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

In a confidential new report, the IAEA complained that Tehran was continuing to defy UN demands to halt uranium enrichment and had started developing faster and more efficient centrifuges to produce enriched uranium, which can be used to make the fissile material for a bomb.

In Washington, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the report provides "a very strong case" for moving forward with a third UN Security Council resolution against Iran over its nuclear defiance.

The UN ambassadors of Britain and France on Thursday formally introduced in the Security Council the text of the latest draft, which they hope to see adopted as soon as possible.

"It is our firm belief that there is all the more reason now for the Security Council to pass a third sanctions resolution," US assistant secretary for political affairs Nicholas Burns told reporters in Washington.

"Some were hoping the IAEA report would eliminate the need for the next resolution," US Ambassador to the UN Zalmay Khalilzad told a press luncheon in New York.

But Khalilzad said the IAEA report showed that the Iranians "did not come clean" and that there were a number of things "that were quite disturbing" with respect to their past nuclear activities.

"The IAEA report does give us very important points to make in support of passage" of the text, he added, noting that the six powers involved in the nuclear standoff with Iran -- Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States and Germany -- were committed to a council vote next Friday.

In a related development, Washington said it would host talks by these powers Monday in a bid to quickly impose a third set of UN sanctions on Iran that it hopes will lead to separate steps by Europe, Japan and South Korea.

"We want to bring this to an active phase in New York. We now want to begin a period of intensive debate," Burns said, adding that the latest IAEA report "reinforces the need" for a third resolution.

The draft sponsors said they were confident that they had enough votes to ensure passage, which requires nine votes and no veto from the five permanent members.

The six powers want Iran to stop enriching uranium, a process which they suspect Tehran aims to use to develop nuclear weapons. Iran insists it is only seeking nuclear power for civilian purposes.

In Tehran, top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili said further sanctions would be a "disgrace," arguing that the IAEA report proved that accusations that it wanted nuclear weapons were baseless.

The council draft includes an outright travel ban by officials involved in Tehran's nuclear and missile programs and inspections of shipments to and from Iran if there are suspicions of prohibited goods.

It also calls "upon states to exercise vigilance in entering into new commitments for public-provided financial support for trade with Iran, including the granting of export credits, guarantees or insurance to their nationals involved in such trade."

Attached to the draft is a list of additional names of Iranian officials and entities subject to travel and financial sanctions.

Khalilzad said that next week ambassadors of the council's five veto-wielding permanent members -- Britain, France, China, Russia and the United States -- would meet among themselves, before collecting the views of four countries said to harbor reservations about the draft: Libya, Vietnam, South Africa and Indonesia.

He said the full council was likely to hold consultations on Wednesday and to schedule a vote on the text next Friday.

Late Friday France issued a call for Tehran to halt its sensitive uranium enrichment activities so that talks can resume.

"Our preference is to move to dialogue and negotiations to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem. We call once again on Iran to comply with its international obligations and finally allow, by suspending its sensitive activities, the opening of negotiations that we have called for," the French foreign ministry said in a statement.

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