IAEA votes to censure Iran nuclear program

IAEA censure of Iran nuclear program comes as UN nuclear watchdog chief ElBaradei says agency at 'dead end' with Iran.

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The board of the UN's nuclear watchdog voted to censure Iran's nuclear program and demand that it shut down its recently discovered uranium-enrichment facility at Qom.  The resolution comes just a day after Mohamed ElBaradei, the International Atomic Energy Agency's outgoing chief, said that the agency's dealings with Iran were at a "dead end."

Reuters reports that the resolution, which passed 25-3 with six absentions, was the agency's first censure against Iran in nearly four years.

With rare Russian and Chinese backing, the vote sent a message of increasing international resolve to challenge Iran over its disputed nuclear ambitions.
But it was unclear whether the measure, sponsored by six world powers, would translate to crucial Russian-Chinese support for painful sanctions that Western leaders will push for early next year if Iran does not embark on steps to defuse mistrust.
The measure won blanket Western backing. Cuba, Malaysia and Venezuela, prominent in a developing nation bloc that includes Iran, voted "no," while Afghanistan, Brazil, Egypt, Pakistan, South Africa and Turkey abstained. Azerbaijan missed the ballot.

The Jerusalem Post writes that the resolution comes in response to the IAEA's concern over Iran after the September discovery of its secret uranium-enrichment facility in Qom.  The announcement revealing the facility, made jointly by the US, Britain, and France, contradicted Iran's insistence that it was not hiding anything from the IAEA.

A perusal of IAEA records shows that Teheran's chief envoy to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, told the agency's board last year that his country "has repeatedly declared that there is no undeclared nuclear material and activity in Iran" - this at the time when construction of the secret nuclear facility was in full force.
The resolution criticized Iran for defying a UN Security Council ban on uranium enrichment - the source of both nuclear fuel and the fissile core of warheads.
It also censured it for secretly building a uranium enrichment facility; noted that ElBaradei could not confirm that Teheran's nuclear program was exclusively geared toward peaceful uses, and expressed "serious concern" that Iranian stonewalling of an IAEA probe means "the possibility of military dimensions to Iran's nuclear program" cannot be excluded.

The resolution comes just a day after Mr. ElBaradei told the agency's board of governors that the IAEA had "effectively reached a dead end, unless Iran engages fully with us." 

The New York Times notes that ElBaradei is set to step down from the directorship of the IAEA on Monday, which probably prompted his uncharacteristically blunt comments about Iran.

Dr. ElBaradei's statement was a sharp departure in tone, and a tacit acknowledgment that his behind-the-scenes effort to broker a deal had collapsed. In the past, he has privately talked about Iran's refusal to answer the agency's questions about weapons work, but has stopped short of rebuking the country in public for fear of shutting off any chance of future cooperation. ...
Dr. ElBaradei has complained that he has been prohibited by "member states," including the United States and European nations, from letting the Iranians see the original evidence — presumably for fear that it could reveal its sources. On Thursday, he repeated his frustration on that point, telling the agency's 35-member board that "it would help if we were able to share with Iran more of the material that is at the center of these concerns."

In an analysis of ElBaradei's leadership of the IAEA over the last 12 years, Deutsche Presse-Agentur writes that he has been "one of the world's most respected diplomats, who has made the most of his agency's limited powers and managed to retain his independence amid intense political pressures."  DPA also notes that several experts said that, despite criticism from Israel that he was too soft on Iran, ElBaradei should not be held responsible for the current stalemate between Iran and the West.

'ElBaradei can only be as tough as the member states on the IAEA Board of Governors are,' said Daryl Kimball, who heads the Arms Control Association, a think tank in Washington.
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