Resolution on Iran nuclear program hailed by US, but lacks teeth

The US lauds the 'unified message' sent by the UN's nuclear watchdog expressing 'deep and increasing concern' over the Iran nuclear program. But the resolution lays no groundwork for action.

Ronald Zak/AP
Iran's Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, waits for the start of the IAEA board of governors meeting at the International Center, in Vienna Friday. 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 nuclear weapons.

A resolution Friday by the UN nuclear watchdog expressing “deep and increasing concern” over Iran’s nuclear program achieved the first goal the United States sought from its adoption: international unity.

China and Russia signed on to the resolution, which expresses a new level of urgency, allowing both the White House and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to say that the world has sent a “unified message” to Iran that it must answer growing questions about signs of a military dimension to its program.

But now comes the even harder part: getting the international community to move beyond rhetoric to act on its “increasing” concerns.

No one expects the adoption of a resolution by the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Board of Governors alone will prompt Iran to alter a program that the IAEA says shows signs of research and development in areas that could only have a military application.

Indeed if there were any doubts about how Iran would respond to the resolution, Iranian officials quickly laid them to rest. In comments after the vote, Iran’s representative to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, said his country would not bow to international pressure over allegations which he said are “fabricated.”

Iran, he said, “will never ever suspend our [uranium] enrichment,” one of the elements of Iran’s nuclear program that is progressing and that worries the international community.

But Secretary Clinton made clear in her comments after the resolution’s adoption that the US plans to use the IAEA vote to spur the world on to increased pressure on Iran to alter its course.

“In the coming weeks we will work with our international partners to increase the pressure on Iran’s government until it decides to meet its international obligations,” she said.

Other Western leaders spoke with similar certainty about prospects for additional pressure on Iran if it does not respond to the IAEA demands for explanations.

“If Iran refuses to comply with her international obligations – very clearly reiterated again today – we shall, along with all of our partners, adopt sanctions on an unprecedented scale,” said French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé.

But few diplomatic experts believe that Russia and China – both of which have already rejected the need for additional economic sanctions on Iran – are hinting at any change of heart with their “aye” votes on the IAEA resolution Friday.

For one thing, the resolution, despite its strong words of concern, does not lay the groundwork for any international action. For example, the IAEA could have referred Iran to the UN Security Council, the international body that can impose punitive measures, but it did not take that step.

Some say the resolution adopted Friday does not even set a deadline for Iran to respond to the IAEA’s concerns, but Mr. Juppé argues that it does. He calls a “clear deadline” the Board of Governors’ directive to the IAEA’s director general, Yukiya Amano, to report back to the Board on Iran’s response at its next meeting in early March.

In comments following adoption of the resolution, Clinton suggested the international community is now expressing unprecedented concern about Iran’s activities. “I think we’ve done a pretty good job bringing the international community to a place that it had never come to before,” she told NBC in an interview.

But she also suggested the reality that any action based on the resolution might be limited to the US and the European Union. “When it comes to sanctions,” she told NBC, “there are more steps that the United States and Europe are probably willing to take than others at this time.”

In a related development Friday, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution condemning the assassination plot that the US uncovered recently against the Saudi ambassador to Washington. The White House released a statement praising the "widespread support for this resolution," which it said "sends a strong message to the Iranian government that the international community will not tolerate the targeting of diplomats."

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