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. Iran faces heat at IAEA board meeting
VIENNA, March 1 (AFP) Mar 01, 2008
Iran could be in for a tough time at the IAEA next week when the UN atomic watchdog's 35-member board of governors convenes for its regular March meeting, starting Monday.

Moves are afoot, some diplomats close to the Vienna-based watchdog suggest, to table a resolution at the meeting pressing Tehran to come clean on its disputed atomic drive.

The move would be unusual: it would be the first such resolution in nearly two years and would effectively be a signal of the International Atomic Energy Agency's growing impatience with the Islamic Republic and its perceived foot-dragging on the controversial nuclear dossier.

It would be an effective way, one diplomat suggested on request of anonymity, "to get our message across and turn the heat up on Iran."

IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei found in a recent report that while Tehran had cleared up most of the outstanding questions on its nuclear programme, it was still refusing point blank to address allegations about its purported work on nuclear weapons.

And that, the agency found, was "a matter of serious concern and critical to an assessment of a possible military dimension to Iran's nuclear programme."

Nevertheless, diplomats insisted that no decision has yet been made about a possible resolution and IAEA governors would likely wait and see what happens in New York at the UN Security Council.

The Security Council put the finishing touches Friday to a draft resolution imposing a third set of UN sanctions on Iran over its nuclear defiance with a vote rescheduled to Monday.

Analysts, too, were divided whether a resolution by the IAEA board was actually needed.

"The ball is in the New York court right now. I don't know that the IAEA board needs to take any action in the form of a resolution," said Mark Fitzpatrick, non-proliferation expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.

Joe Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, a San Francisco-based foundation focused on nuclear weapon issues, suggested that a resolution by the IAEA board "could be a step towards the board reclaiming control of the Iran issue from the Security Council.

"The Security Council process has been exhausted" and another sanctions resolution would not add substantially to a resolution of the crisis, Cirincione argued.

"We would be better off with the Iran process back at the IAEA, with Iran submitting to the expanded inspections required by the Additional Protocol," the expert said.

Iran has recently said it would implement the protocol -- which allows deeper and often unannounced inspections of nuclear facilities by IAEA experts -- if the dossier is sent back from the Security Council to the IAEA.

Gary Samore, a Washington-based non-proliferation expert, said that any punitive measures would likely be so watered down that they would not amount to much more than the existing sanctions.

Nevertheless, ElBaradei's report had indeed strengthened the case for sanctions, Samore said.

Not only did the IAEA chief clearly state that Tehran's flat denials on the weaponisation issue were not good enough, he also confirmed that Iran was pursuing, and even expanding, its uranium enrichment, in flagrant violation of UN demands.

At a briefing of the IAEA board on Monday, head of safeguards Olli Heinonen presented detailed documentation suggesting Iran was involved in weaponisation studies that would not make sense for conventional weapons, diplomats who attended the closed-door session said.

Furthermore, the documentation suggested Iran continued nuclear weapons work beyond the 2003 date cited in a recent US intelligence report, the diplomats said.

Nevertheless, the so-called Non-Aligned Movement countries, which include Cuba and South Africa, are sceptical about the authenticity of the intelligence and believe a resolution on the part of the IAEA is unnecessary, diplomats here said.

South Africa's envoy to the IAEA, Abdul Minty, warned this week that further UN sanctions could push Iran to reduce or even terminate its cooperation with the IAEA.

"There is increasing confidence in the Iranian enrichment programme. The IAEA has not found a single item that has been lost or diverted to military operations," he said.

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