| International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohammed ElBaradei in Vienna. (AFP)
Vienna, Nov. 24 (Reuters): The UN nuclear watchdog’s governors broadly agree it is better to explore a Russian compromise over Iran’s nuclear activities than to report Tehran to the Security Council, western board members said today.
A draft statement incorporating this position was submitted by the EU’s three biggest powers ' France, Britain and Germany ' to the chairman of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s board as it began a two-day meeting.
“There is a broad consensus not to allow Iran in the present circumstances conducting enrichment-related activities on its soil,” said the draft of a statement, obtained by Reuters, to be read by the IAEA board chairman at the end of the meeting.
The EU draft text makes no mention of previous threats to refer Tehran to the Security Council for possible sanctions, which the US and EU had been pushing for months.
Diplomats said a decision by the EU and the US not to push for referral at the meeting had averted a potential clash with Russia and China.
Rarely united previously, they and the western powers, along with developing countries such as India and South Africa, now seem to agree Russia’s proposal offers the best route forward.
Moscow has suggested letting Tehran conduct less-sensitive uranium processing in Iran and shifting the converted material to Russia, where a Russian-Iranian joint venture would handle the critical enrichment process. Enrichment can yield fuel for nuclear power stations or bomb-grade uranium fuel.
The EU text said the IAEA’s 35-nation board had “unanimous hope...that the negotiation process could resume, taking into account, among different ideas, the Russian proposals”. It also said: “None of the members of the board wishes Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon.”
Tehran denies wanting anything more than civilian nuclear energy but acknowledges hiding potentially weapons-related technology from UN inspectors for 18 years until 2003.
The EU text cited “unanimous concern” about a disclosure last week that Iran had received papers from black marketeers describing in part how to build the core of a nuclear bomb.
Peter Jenkins, British envoy to the IAEA, said this clearly reflected a quest for nuclear arms. He warned that while the EU had opted to give Iran more time to weigh Moscow's proposal, the West’s forebearance was not unlimited. “Iran should not conclude that this window of opportunity will remain open in all circumstances,” he said.
Iran has made clear it intends to start uranium enrichment on its own soil eventually. Tehran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, said this would be the main topic of any future discussions with the Europeans and Russians.