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Iran Nuclear Program: Russia, West Agree On Iran Text

GEORGE JAHN   11/17/11 02:58 PM ET   AP

VIENNA — The U.N. atomic agency's new resolution on Iran criticizes Tehran's nuclear defiance but, in a concession to Russia and China, does not set an ultimatum for allowing a probe of its alleged secret work on atomic weapons.

The document, obtained by The Associated Press, is expected to be circulated and voted on Friday by the International Atomic Energy Agency's 35-nation board.

It had been eagerly awaited as a signal of how harshly Iran would be treated for ignoring both IAEA and U.N. Security Council demands that it stop activities that could be used to make nuclear arms and allow the agency to probe its alleged secret weapons work.

The resolution was also an indication that the six world powers at the forefront of trying to engage Iran on cooperating with the international community on its nuclear program had surmounted a difficult hurdle testing their unity.

The U.S. and its Western allies – Britain, France and Germany – had come to the meeting saying they were seeking a tough warning to the Islamic Republic to start cooperating or face renewed referral to the Security Council. But Russia and China were opposed to any harsh criticism or an overt time frame on Iran to act or face further punishment.

The text shared with the AP reflected compromise on both sides. It expressed "serious concern that Iran continues to defy the requirements and obligations contained in the relevant IAEA Board of Governors and UN Security Council Resolutions." It also spoke of "deep and increasing concern about the unresolved issues regarding the Iranian nuclear program, including those which need to be clarified to exclude the existence of possible military dimensions."

"Serious concern," and "deep and increasing concern" are strong terms in the diplomatic world. At the same time, the text had no reference to Security Council referral if Tehran remained defiant, although two Western diplomats said that could still happen at the next IAEA meeting in March.

Even though there's no reference to the Security Council, U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said he was confident a "strong message" and a "unified message" was going to come out of the Board of Governors.

"We believe that it's going to send a very clear message to Iran that the Board of Governors and IAEA are very concerned and asking Iran to address those concerns," Toner said.

In opening comments to the meeting, IAEA chief Yukiya Amano also repeated his concerns "regarding possible military dimensions to Iran's nuclear program," saying such work may extend into the present.

The West had hoped that an unprecedented detailing of Iran's alleged secret weapons work contained in a restricted Nov. 8 IAEA report could sway Moscow and Beijing. For the first time, the agency said Iran was suspected of clandestine work that is "specific to nuclear weapons."

In comments to the closed meeting made available to reporters, Amano said his agency finds the information leading to such suspicions to be generally credible.

"The information indicates that Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device," he said. "It also indicates that, prior to the end of 2003, these activities took place under a structured program, and that some activities may still be ongoing."

Amano said he has written Iranian officials proposing that a high-level IAEA mission go to Tehran to try and jump-start his agency's stalled probe and is awaiting a reply.

Diplomats who spoke ahead of the meeting had said the U.S. and its allies were ready to push through a tough document, before ceding to Russian and Chinese pressure and accepting a watered down version that allows Iran to continue ignoring international demands.

Western diplomats defended the compromise Wednesday. One – who, like others, asked for anonymity in exchange for discussing the document – said the compromise text would likely be supported by almost all 35 board members with the probable exception of Cuba, which always votes against resolutions critical of Iran.

Wide support is crucial at board meetings, which strive to work by consensus, and the diplomat said such broad support will send a strong signal of world concern to Iran.

Avoiding a big power split along East-West lines is taking on increased urgency as Tehran advances in enriching uranium, which can be used for making weapons as well as fueling reactors.

Tehran denies hiding a weapons program and insists its enrichment activities are meant only as an energy source. But as Iran gets closer to bomb-making ability, Israel may opt to strike militarily rather than take the chance that its arch foe will possess nuclear weapons.

Israeli government officials have increased warnings that such a strike is being contemplated, and the U.S. also has refused to take that option off the table.

Israeli officials have suggested they could accept crippling Iran sanctions as an alternative to force. But despite four rounds of economic sanctions, the United Nations is being held back from tougher measures by Russia and China, both of them veto-wielding Security Council members and bound to Iran by strategic and economic interests.

The State Department's Toner said the U.S. was "looking and consulting with our partners around the world on ways that we can strengthen the existing sanctions against Iran and take additional measures, additional steps, to increase pressure."

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Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this story.

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Filed by Eline Gordts  |