U.N. "deplores" Iran nuclear cover-up

By Louis Charbonneau

Swiss Info

Thursday 27.11.2003, CET 12:58

VIENNA (Reuters) - The United Nations nuclear watchdog has condemned Iran over an 18-year cover-up of sensitive atomic research and
says any future breach of non-proliferation obligations will not be tolerated.

The U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) stopped short of reporting Iran to the Security Council, which could have imposed
sanctions. However, some countries think Tehran has more secrets and will eventually face the U.N.'s supreme body.

The IAEA governing board adopted a resolution that "strongly deplores" Iran's cover-up over the past 18 years of a programme that
involves uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing -- both of which could be pointers to a nuclear arms programme.

The resolution, which passed after more than a week of tough negotiations between its sponsors France, Germany and Britain, and
Washington over how to balance encouragement and condemnation, also praises Iran's promises of "active cooperation and openness".

The United States has described Iran as part of an international "axis of evil" -- together with North Korea and pre-war Iraq -- and believes it
has been using a secretive atomic energy programme to hide development of nuclear arms, which Tehran denies.

IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei told a news conference he was pleased with the resolution, but added: "The board is sending a very
serious and ominous message that failures in the future will not be tolerated and that the board will use all options available to it to deal with
these failures."

Iran's Foreign Ministry hailed the resolution as an "achievement" for Tehran.

However, Iran's ambassador to the IAEA was disappointed the text left out the IAEA's conclusion in a recent report on Iran that there was
"no evidence" of a weapons programme.


"The most important conclusion of the report...was not incorporated in the resolution," Ali Akbar Salehi said.

The IAEA report, however, had also said the jury was still out on whether there was a nuclear arms programme.

Washington, which was infuriated by the IAEA's "no evidence" conclusion, saw the resolution as both a clear rejection of Iran's nuclear
cover-up and a U.S. victory.

"Iran today is at a crossroads," U.S. ambassador to the IAEA Kenneth Brill said in a statement.

"They can...continue down the well worn path of the past almost 20 years of denial, deception, deceit, or they can turn towards the path of a
new chapter wherein they really do come clean and meet their commitments in a verifiable way."

The United States had hoped to send Iran to the Security Council for possible sanctions for "non-compliance" with its obligations under the
nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The Europeans opposed this and Washington finally acquiesced.

White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan, travelling with reporters in Texas where President George W. Bush has a ranch, said the
United States welcomed the resolution.

"We welcome that resolution and believe that it underscores the international community's serious concerns with Iran's nuclear activities
and the urgent requirement of Iran to come into full compliance with nuclear non-proliferation obligations.

"We feel that this is a strong resolution. We welcome it and there is no doubt that it means referral to the United Nations ...to be dealt with."


Foreign Secretary Jack Straw issued a statement welcoming the adoption of the resolution as "an important step forward in the
international community's efforts to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons".

The French Foreign Ministry said of the resolution: "Its content is balanced, it makes a very firm judgement on Iran's past activities in the
nuclear area and encourages it to continue and confirm its move towards a new policy of transparency and cooperation with the international

Russia also welcomed the resolution, saying it was pleased the matter would not be taken up by the Security Council.

But the Council threat is strongly implied. The resolution contains a so-called trigger clause; if further breaches are uncovered, the IAEA
board will meet immediately to consider "all options", one of which is the Security Council.

Some disarmament experts think Iran still has some secrets.