New York Times: The United States once again failed to persuade the International Atomic Energy Agency on Friday that it should
refer Iran's suspect nuclear program to the United Nations
Security Council, accepting instead a repetition of calls for the country to stop uranium enrichment activities and clear up remaining questions about its nuclear ambitions.
A resolution making those calls is expected to be approved by
the agency's 35-member board on Saturday ... New York Times

By CRAIG S. SMITH

VIENNA - The United States once again failed to persuade the International Atomic Energy Agency on Friday that it should refer Iran's suspect nuclear program to the United Nations Security Council, accepting instead a repetition of calls for the country to stop uranium enrichment activities and clear up remaining questions about its nuclear ambitions.

A resolution making those calls is expected to be approved by the agency's 35-member board on Saturday, though several countries were trying to water down the resolution's language further late Friday. According to the current draft of the resolution, it will demand a full response from Iran before the agency's board meeting on Nov. 25 .

American officials say they have made progress in a week of grueling negotiations.

"Whatever the precise wording of the resolution, the issue of Security Council referral will be up at the November board meeting and everyone knows it," said John R. Bolton, under secretary of state for nonproliferation affairs, speaking from Washington. "We're quite satisfied with that."

Washington has been pressing the nuclear agency to find Iran in breach of its obligations under the Nonproliferation Treaty, after the discovery two years ago that the country had hidden much of its nuclear activities for nearly 20 years. Iran has been slow to divulge details of its clandestine research operation, which the United States is convinced harbors a nuclear weapons program.

Many other countries, led by Britain, France and Germany, have favored a softer approach, though a senior Bush administration official expressed confidence on Friday that the "tactical gap" in how to deal with Iran was narrowing.

Iran's nuclear program dates from the late 1960's, when it began developing nuclear energy at the urging of the United States. Iran eventually contracted Siemens, the German company, to build a 1,000 megawatt nuclear power plant in the port of Busheir.

But construction of the plant was stopped during the Islamic revolution of 1979, and Iran soon became an international pariah. As a result, the country argues, it was forced to rely on the black market to save its nuclear program, in which it had already invested billions of dollars. It bought centrifuge designs from Pakistan and imported technology from a secret network of suppliers that spanned the globe.

In 1995, Iran signed a contract with Russia to resume work on the Busheir plant and soon began assembling centrifuges, which are used to concentrate uranium's unstable 235 isotope at levels necessary for a nuclear reaction. Iran will need uranium with 3.5 percent of the isotope to fuel its Busheir plant. But the same centrifuges can be used to enrich uranium to the higher levels needed for nuclear weapons.

Under the Nonproliferation Treaty, Iran has the right to enrich uranium for use in nuclear power plants, but not disclosing the enrichment program was a clear breach of its obligations under the treaty. The program was disclosed by a group of Iranian dissidents in August 2002.

Last year, Britain, France and Germany persuaded Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment efforts to build confidence among the international community while it clarifies questions about its nuclear program. In return, the three European countries promised to transfer nuclear energy technology to Iran and to resist American efforts to send the country's case to the Security Council. Iran plans to build six more 1,000 megawatt reactors.

Since then, the International Atomic Energy Agency has been trying to answer all remaining questions about Iran's nuclear program and has carried out more than a dozen unannounced inspections of Iranian facilities. This week the agency's director, Mohamed ElBaradei, praised Iran's cooperation and said most issues had been clarified. He said, for example, that traces of highly enriched uranium found on imported centrifuge parts in Iran might well have come from outside the country, as Iran insists. But the United States remains certain that inconsistencies in the program and other clues point to a secret weapons program.

Most troubling to the United States is Iran's insistence on continuing its enrichment program.

While Iran says the program is to produce low-enriched uranium to fuel its Busheir power plant, the centrifuges could quickly be converted for making weapons-grade uranium.

Experts say that it will take Iran decades to build the tens of thousands of centrifuges necessary to produce a year's worth of fuel for the Busheir plant, but that it needs only about 2,000 centrifuges to make enough highly enriched uranium for one bomb a year. It would need even fewer if it started with the low-enriched uranium promised by Russia as fuel for the Busheir plant.

Frustrated by the nuclear agency's continued pressure and the lack of action on the European promises of technology transfers, Iran announced in June that it was resuming the production and assembly of centrifuges. It has maintained a yearlong freeze on the use of those centrifuges, but warned this week that the suspension would not be forever.

Iran raised alarms earlier this month by confirming that it was ready to convert more than 40 tons of yellowcake, or uranium oxide, into the uranium hexafluoride gas that is fed into centrifuges for enrichment. Iran's uranium conversion plant operates under International Atomic Energy Agency controls, but the agency has urged the country to stop using the facility in order to ease international concerns.

Hossein Mousavian, who is in charge of the foreign policy committee of Iran's Supreme National security Council, said Iran was prepared to accept any initiative by the agency to ensure that its enrichment does not exceed the 3.5 percent level needed to fuel the Busheir plant. But he said preventing Iran from enriching uranium was beyond the agency's authority.

Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former Iranian president, warned Friday in Tehran that should the agency demand that the country stop its enrichment activities a complaint would be lodged against it at the International Court of Justice for acting outside its powers.

Washington had lobbied hard to give Iran an Oct. 31 deadline to stop all enrichment activity and meet other demands, but acceded Friday to Britain, France and Germany's preference for a more flexible resolution.

According to the current draft of the resolution, Iran must clear up "outstanding issues" in time for Mr. ElBaradei to prepare a report for the November meeting and "immediately suspend all enrichment-related activities." It says the agency's board will decide in November "whether or not further steps are appropriate."

The vaguer language, similar to that of previous resolutions on Iran over the past year, leaves the agency the option of closing its investigation without referring the country's case to the Security Council.

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