Page 3 of 3   <      

U.N. Nuclear Agency Reports Iran to Security Council

Anticipating the IAEA vote, Iranian President Ahmadinejad accused nuclear powers of trying to impose "scientific apartheid" and said they were ruining the reputation of the IAEA.

At a news conference Friday, the hard-line leader said a few nuclear powers were trying to "dictate their policies . . . from a domineering position, assuming that the Middle Ages' relations are still valid. But they had better wake up from that long sleep, because otherwise the severe blow of the world nations on their faces would wake them up."

In a direct appeal to non-aligned countries that account for 16 of the 35 seats on the board, Ahmadinejad said, "The hegemonic powers assume if they would manage to block Iran's path, they would also succeed in blocking the other nations' path."

Former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who heads Iran's powerful Guardian Council, delivered a separate warning during Friday prayers at Tehran University, the marquee podium for the conservative clerics who hold ultimate power in Iran.

"We have acquired some knowledge, and we intend to utilize it to improve our life and that of others," Rafsanjani said, emphasizing Iran's right to develop nuclear power to generate energy. "No matter where a progress in knowledge is achieved, it will benefit mankind. However, should they treat us in this manner, then the problems will take another shape."

Last year, Iran's conservative parliament passed a bill requiring the government to resume industrial-scale uranium enrichment if the IAEA pushed the issue to the Security Council. However, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, holds ultimate authority in Iran, and he has guided Iran's nuclear policy though the Supreme National Security Council, chaired by Larijani.

As signatory of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran has the right to develop nuclear technology and to enrich uranium, which can be used for the production of energy or, if highly enriched, to manufacture atomic bombs. But the country became enmeshed in controversy in 2002 after Iranian dissidents disclosed that the government had concealed its nuclear programs for almost two decades. Iran suspended the most controversial parts of its activities, and European diplomats agreed not to pursue Security Council action while they conducted intensive negotiations to ensure that Iran's program was and would remain strictly peaceful.

The negotiations floundered in August when Iran resumed uranium conversion, and again in January when it launched uranium enrichment activities, prompting the Europeans to declare their negotiations at an impasse and to begin a drive, which U.S. officials say was long overdue, to report Iran to the Security Council.

In recent months, international inspectors have found some documents in Iran that were related to bomb-making, but no evidence of a bomb-making program. They complain, however, that Iran has not provided the information or access to people, documents and facilities to make a solid determination one way or the other.

Recent provocative comments from Ahmadinejad -- including questioning the Holocaust, saying Israel should be "wiped off the map" and offering to transfer nuclear know-how to other Islamic countries -- increased concern about Iran's intentions and raised the pressure for the IAEA board to demand tougher confidence-building measures.

Several factors contributed to the IAEA board's lopsided vote, including the agreement earlier this week between the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China -- the five permanent members of the Security Council -- to give Iran a one-month grace period to adopt a more conciliatory approach.

The final resolution removed any reference to Iran's "non-compliance" with its nuclear treaty obligations and the article of the Non-Proliferation Treaty that it has violated. While that softened the resolution on its face, U.S. officials felt that it did not really matter because the document explicitly forwards a board resolution from last September that found Iran in violation of the NPT.

In an effort to win backing from 16 members of the Non-Aligned Movement, a group dating from the Cold War, the resolution included a paragraph "recognizing that a solution to the Iranian issue would contribute to global non-proliferation efforts and realizing the objective of a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction, including their means of delivery." The language significantly softened the movement's demand for a reference to creating a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Middle East, which the United States saw as a slap at Israel.

The resolution also is ambiguous about whether the IAEA board must act again after the one-month grace period in order to officially request Security Council action. The United States believes the resolution places the entire Iran issue on the council's table. But other countries -- including many from the Non-Aligned Movement -- hold the view that the resolution only informed the Security Council of the Iran problem, and that the IAEA board must vote again in another month if it wants the council to take action.

The confusion allowed everybody to interpret the issue as they saw fit for Saturday's vote, but creates a potential problem down the road.

Kessler reported from Washington. Correspondent Karl Vick contributed to this report from Istanbul.

<          3

© 2006 The Washington Post Company