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U.N. Body Cites Iran On Nuclear Program

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, right, talks to Iran's delegate before a board of governors meeting in Vienna.
The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, right, talks to Iran's delegate before a board of governors meeting in Vienna. (By Hans Punz -- Associated Press)

Whatever the final outcome, the events this week in Vienna illustrate Iran's diplomatic transformation over the last few years.

Once widely considered a pariah state, Iran has undertaken an aggressive international charm offensive in recent years to win back allies, expand its network of trade partners and boost its influence abroad. The outreach program, initiated by former president Mohammad Khatami, paid off for Iran in Vienna by preventing its immediate referral to the Security Council.

"Khatami fundamentally changed Iran's foreign policy" by repairing relations with many countries, said Ray Takeyh, a Middle East analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. Khatami led Iran out of its isolation, Takeyh said, and "history will look back and recognize his accomplishments as momentous."

However, the new Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was elected this summer, took a more defiant tone on the issue, which did not help his case this week, diplomats indicated.

Iran's reorientation of diplomatic and trade ties, particularly with Russia, China and India, gave Iran important allies in Vienna and could continue to pay off at the United Nations, where Russia and China both wield vetoes on the Security Council, analysts said.

Iran, which has 10 percent of the world's known oil reserves and the second-largest natural gas reserves after Russia, supplied about 14 percent of China's oil imports in 2003. Last fall, China and Iran signed a 25-year, $100 billion deal under which China is expected to buy about 10 million tons of natural gas annually from Iran.

Russia is also heavily involved in helping Iran build a $1 billion nuclear reactor.

Earlier this year, India signed a 30-year, $50 billion deal with Iran to buy 7.5 million tons of natural gas annually. India had expressed its opposition to the E.U. resolution all week, but after intense U.S. lobbying, it voted in favor of finding Iran in non-compliance, and also supported the delayed referral.

Analysts and diplomats said the U.S. position was weakened -- especially among the members of the Non-Aligned Movement, a grouping of countries dating from the Cold War -- by lingering mistrust of the United States in light of the case it presented to the United Nations for going to war in Iraq.

The Non-Aligned Movement "was always critical of the U.S., but they no longer trust that the U.S. is telling the truth," said a diplomat closely following the board's debate.

A critical issue was "sovereignty," said another diplomat here, who like most others spoke only on condition of anonymity because the board's meetings are closed and are supposed to be confidential. "The non-aligned states see the big nuclear powers -- the old colonial states -- calling the shots and limiting their access to nuclear technology," the diplomat said.

Officials said the E.U. and the United States also appeared to lack a concrete strategy for dealing with the Iran case in the Security Council. Diplomats said that Russia, in particular, was concerned that absent a game plan, the matter could escalate out of control.

Staff writer Dafna Linzer in Washington contributed to this report.


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