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2 February 2006
VIENNA - Iran has a month to regain the confidence of the international community and avoid UN Security Council action over its nuclear programme regardless of whether it is referred on Friday, the head of the UN's nuclear watchdog said Thursday.
"This situation is critical - not a crisis - and there is no imminent threat," Mohamed ElBaradei, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told reporters at a Vienna meeting of the top IAEA body to discuss Iran's referral.
"Iran still has until my next report to fully suspend its enrichment activities," he said.
The resolution under discussion by the IAEA Board of Governors was hammered out Monday when veto powers Russia and China agreed with the US, Britain, France and Germany to have Iran's case referred to the Security Council.
Under the deal, the Security Council would take no action before ElBaradei reports on his assessment of Iran at a March 6 meeting of the IAEA's governing board.
ElBaradei said that the Russian plan to enrich uranium for Iran presented the Islamic State with a "window of opportunity" and that the plan would serve as a transitional solution until confidence could be built in the peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear programme.
"Nobody on the board of governors denies Iran's right to nuclear power," he said. "However, now is not the time to enrich."
Iran in January broke IAEA seals on equipment for enriching uranium, which can also be used for nuclear weapons.
Russian Ambassador to the IAEA Grigory Berdennikov said that "there was no rationale for enrichment in Iran" and that Russia was ready to help in this regard.
ElBaradei said that referral would send a clear message that Iran must rebuild international confidence: "Whether we report Iran to the council or not, I believe the only way forward is through diplomacy."
However, Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, in a message addressed to ElBaradei, said that the decision to report Iran would have "no legal or technical basis" and would force the government to end all voluntary cooperation with the IAEA.
"Nothing in particular has happened with regard to inspections, and no change has taken place in relation to the facts," he said. "This decision would be the final blow to the confidence of Iran."
The major players - the EU Trio of Britain, France and Germany; Russia; the US; China and the nonaligned states - put their case to the governors on Thursday.
The US statement unsurprisingly called for Iran to be referred. US Ambassador to the IAEA, Gregory Schulte, added, however, that the referral was necessary only to "open a new level of diplomacy."
"We are not seeking sanctions or punitive measures," he said.
A senior official close to the IAEA said that the council could well decide to do nothing, even in March, as was the case with North Korea.
Although a decision will not be taken until Friday, details of how the vote should go emerged throughout the day.
Berdennikov said that Russia would definitely vote "yes", but the Chinese ambassador was more guarded.
"We believe that there is room within the IAEA to resolve this," Wu Hailong said. "Iran should give up uranium enrichment, but others should remain calm and patient."
German ambassador Herbert Honsowitz spoke on behalf of the EU-3 and also reiterated that diplomacy was not over.
"This is not about the IAEA transferring responsibility; it's about the credibility of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the IAEA's authority," he said.
The nonaligned states called for all member states to "avoid any undue pressure or interference in the IAEA's activities", adding that they were concerned over the slow pace toward the disarmament of states already in possession of nuclear weapons.
The meeting adjourned overnight, to allow further unofficial discussion - including a nonaligned states conference - and was set to resume at 1400 GMT on Friday. A decision was expected to come before 1700 GMT.
According to an IAEA spokesman, only Syria and Cuba have displayed out-and-out opposition to the resolution, but Venezuela may vote No, and several abstentions are expected.
Subject: German news
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