The International Atomic Energy Agency's 35-nation governing board admonished Iran on Friday over rising international fears that the Persian Gulf state might be pursuing a nuclear-weapon capability, Reuters reported (see GSN, Nov. 17).
Board members adopted a resolution on the matter days after IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano issued a safeguards report raising "serious concerns" that Iran is secretly moving to establish an atomic-weapon capacity (see GSN, Nov. 9). Tehran has consistently denied assertions that its nuclear program is geared toward weapons development.
Chinese and Russian resistance to firm penalties contributed to their absence in the final resolution. Cuba and Ecuador opposed the measure, while Indonesia declined to cast a vote.
"At this point, it doesn't really ratchet up the pressure on Iran," said Mark Hibbs, an analyst with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The document sets no time limits for Iran to address international concerns, he added.
Iran's ambassador to the U.N. nuclear watchdog berated the organization for purportedly providing advance copies of the safeguards report to France, the United States and the United Kingdom.
The document is "unprofessional, unbalanced, illegal and politicized," Ambassador Ali Asghar Soltanieh told the governing board before the resolution was adopted. "Any resolutions based on this report ... are not legally binding, thus they are not applicable," he said (Dahl/Westall, Reuters I, Nov. 18).
Washington on Friday asserted Iran was pursuing a "provocative expansion" of atomic efforts of concern and suggested that Tehran might have shifted a quantity of uranium to defense activities.
"Iran's covert attempts to develop undeclared pathways for the production of nuclear material and work on nuclear weapons technology leaves little doubt that Iran, at the very least, wants to position itself for a nuclear weapons capability," U.S. Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency Glyn Davies said in prepared remarks.
The U.S. envoy criticized Iranian moves to transfer the production of higher-enriched uranium to the hardened Qum facility. The 20 percent enriched material enables Iran to potentially produce nuclear-weapon material more quickly. Weapon-grade uranium must be refined to roughly 90 percent, but Tehran insists the material is intended to fuel a medical research reactor.
"Stockpiling uranium enriched to near 20 percent is a dangerous provocation because it positions Iran to move closer to the production of highly enriched uranium in a shorter period of time," Davies said.
The IAEA safeguards report refers to a "discrepancy" of roughly 44 pounds of atomic material at the Jabr Ibn Hayan Multipurpose Research Laboratory in Tehran, Davies said. The U.N. nuclear watchdog said it was communicating with Iran to address the matter, and Soltanieh said it was "absolutely not an issue."
Davies countered that the question demanded "immediate" clarification and referred to indications that Iran's military program had access to "kilogram quantities" of natural uranium metal. The material in question could not fuel a weapon but might aid in related development activities, according to analysts.
"It remains to be seen whether this discrepancy could ultimately represent another piece in the puzzle the IAEA is assembling to show Iran's nuclear weapons-related activities," Davies stated (Dahl/Westall, Reuters II, Nov. 18).
Meanwhile, Senator Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) on Thursday introduced a bill enabling the Obama administration to blacklist any non-U.S. financial entity engaging in transactions with Iran's central bank, Agence France-Presse reported (Agence France-Presse I/Google News, Nov. 17).
Six prominent Democratic and Republican lawmakers on Thursday pressed President Obama in a letter to investigate whether the central bank is linked to deals aiding weapons of mass destruction efforts or violent extremism, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced (U.S. Representative Nancy Pelosi release, Nov. 17).
Elsewhere, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Thursday said he would note the potential dangers of employing armed force against Iran in talks with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Friday, AFP reported (Agence France-Presse II/Daily Star, Nov. 17).
North Korea on Friday rejected reports that it had provided nuclear weapons assistance to Iran, the Associated Press reported (Associated Press/Google News, Nov. 18).