Iran: U.S. Won't Take YES for an Answer
By Louis Charbonneau and Francois Murphy
VIENNA (Reuters) - Iran escaped U.N. censure over its nuclear program but Washington, which accuses it of seeking an atomic bomb, said on Monday it reserved the right to take the case to the Security Council on its own.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), a U.N. watchdog, passed a resolution approving Iran's week-old suspension of sensitive nuclear activities as part of a deal between Tehran and the European Union .
Crucially, and in line with Iranian demands, the resolution described the freeze as a voluntary, confidence-building measure and not a legally binding commitment.
Its passage meant Tehran, which denies it wants the bomb, had achieved its immediate goal: to prevent the IAEA from referring it to the U.N. Security Council for possible economic sanctions.
"This resolution which was approved by the IAEA was a definite defeat for our enemies who wanted to pressure Iran by sending its case to the U.N. Security Council," President Mohammad Khatami was quoted by state radio as saying.
The United States believes Iran is playing games with the international community and wants to see it referred to the Council. U.S. envoy Jackie Sanders told the IAEA's board of governors that Washington reserved the right to go it alone.
"Quite apart from the question of how this board chooses to handle these matters, of course, the United States reserves all of its options with respect to Security Council consideration of the Iranian nuclear weapons program," she said.
Sanders also issued a stern warning to companies, including multinationals, against exporting weapons-related equipment to Iran. The United States "will impose economic burdens on them and brand them as proliferators," she said.
The statement reflected U.S. frustration at Iran's repeated success in evading a referral to the Council, despite what IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei has called persistent unanswered questions and a "confidence deficit" over Tehran's activities.
Even if Washington took the issue to the Council it could expect strong resistance to sanctions, including from permanent members Russia and China which both have vetoes.
And a senior U.S. official who declined to be named cast doubt on how far Washington could push the issue on its own.
"I don't know if we're in a good enough position to take it to the Security Council (but) it's a shot across the (Iranian) bow," he said
Sanctions on any European company exporting equipment to Iran could also fan resentment at a time when mending fences with Europe was a priority, he said.
A spokesman for President Bush said: "The implementation and verification of the agreement is critical."
"Iran has failed to comply with its commitments many times over the course of the past year and a half... We will see, as time goes by, if they are now finally going to comply in full."
The developments capped five days of diplomatic poker over the terms of a deal Iran struck with the EU this month to suspend all activities relating to enriching uranium. Enrichment generates fuel for use in nuclear power plants or, potentially, in weapons.
ElBaradei said Iran had withdrawn a request to continue research on 20 enrichment centrifuges, and inspectors had installed surveillance cameras on Monday to monitor them.
"We have already verified these 20 centrifuges and they are under agency surveillance... We have now therefore completed our verification of Iran's decision to suspend enrichment- and reprocessing-related activities," ElBaradei told reporters.
"Good progress has been made (but there's), still a lot of work to be done. The ball is in Iran's court," he said.
Iran says it has a "sovereign right" to enrich uranium and is only suspending such work to show its peaceful intentions.
BRITISH EMBASSY STONED
In Tehran, some 500 members of a conservative volunteer militia pelted the British embassy with stones and firecrackers on Monday, protesting that the Iran-EU deal was a sell-out.
The mainly black-bearded men burned a British flag and tried to charge the embassy gates but were pushed back by riot police. "Nuclear energy is our right," the protesters shouted.
At the IAEA in Vienna, there were signs of mounting exasperation from Western diplomats over Iranian tactics.
Several told Reuters that Iran had only firmly committed not to test the centrifuges until Dec. 15, when the EU and Iran meet to discuss a long-term nuclear deal.
Those talks will focus on trade cooperation and peaceful nuclear technology that the Europeans are willing to offer Tehran if it gives up uranium enrichment for good.
Washington, diplomats say, will not block such a deal but it will not actively support it either -- a stance that some experts believe will eventually kill the agreement. A previous EU-Iran deal collapsed earlier this year. (Additional reporting by Madeline Chambers in London, Paul Hughes in Tehran, Carol Giacomo in Washington)
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