Vienna — Outgoing IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei fired a parting shot at Iran here Thursday, saying efforts to verify the exclusively peaceful nature of its nuclear programme had reached a dead end, as the UN atomic watchdog considered censuring Tehran.
ElBaradei has been often accused during his 12 years as head of the International Atomic Energy Agency of being too soft on Iran.
But as the end of his term neared — the Egyptian diplomat steps down next week — and the IAEA no closer to knowing the true nature and extent of Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, he has toughened his language in recent weeks.
His tone has become noticeably sharper after the Islamic Republic snubbed his own compromise deal on the supply of fuel for a nuclear research reactor in Tehran.
Addressing the IAEA’s 35-member board of governors at the start of a two-day meeting, ElBaradei criticised Iran for long concealing a second uranium enrichment plant in Fordo, near the holy city of Qom.
Iran’s failure to notify the agency of the existence of the plant near Qom until September 2009 "was inconsistent with its obligations," he complained.
"Iran’s late declaration of the new facility reduces confidence in the absence of other nuclear facilities under construction in Iran which have not been declared to the agency," he said.
And he complained that there has been no movement for "well over a year" from Iran on allegations it had previously been engaged in studies on nuclear weaponisation.
"It is now well over a year since the agency was last able to engage Iran in discussions about these outstanding issues," he said. "We have effectively reached a dead end, unless Iran engages fully with us."
On the uranium deal, which ElBaradei himself masterminded, the diplomat said he was "disappointed that Iran has not so far agreed to the original proposal or the alternative modalities, both of which I believe are balanced and fair and would greatly help to alleviate the concerns relating to Iran’s nuclear programme."
Iran has so far refused to respond to a deal which would see Russia enrich the uranium needed to fuel a nuclear research reactor in Tehran in return for confidence-building gestures.
Under the terms of the deal, Iran must ship out most of its stockpile of low-enriched uranium for further processing by Russia.
But Tehran is reluctant to let go of its uranium, and has proposed a simultaneous exchange of fuel inside Iran instead.
"The proposed agreement is meant to ensure the continued operation of the Tehran Research Reactor and maintain its ability to produce medical isotopes so that cancer patients receive the treatment they need," ElBaradei said.
"Equally importantly, it would also help to bring a shift away from confrontation towards cooperation and open the way for a broad dialogue between Iran and the international community.
"In my view, the proposed agreement represents a unique opportunity to address a humanitarian need and create space for negotiations," the 67-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner said.
Given the growing frustration over the lack of progress in the long-running standoff with Iran, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — plus Germany have tabled a resolution to put to the vote by the IAEA board.
A number of countries made statements to the board on Thursday afternoon and more were scheduled to speak on Friday, before the resolution would finally be voted on.
German ambassador Ruediger Luedeking, introducing the resolution on behalf of the so-called P5+1, said it would "serve as a reminder and an encouragement for Iran to seize the existing opportunities to engage in meaningful negotiations with a view to achieving a comprehensive diplomatic solution.
"We extend a hand and appeal to Iran to take it."
It would be the first resolution to be passed by the IAEA board since February 2006.
Iran’s envoy to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, said Tehran would reduce co-operation with the agency to "the minimum we are legally required" if the board voted in favour of the resolution.
"Any gesture or move jeopardising this cooperation … will be counterproductive," he told reporters at the end of the first day of debate.