VIENNA, Austria – The European Union offered a slight compromise Thursday in its drive to refer Iran to the U.N. Security Council, telling Russia, China and other Iranian allies it was prepared only to delay the initiative and not give it up.
Backed by the United States, the Europeans said that if referral opponents did not accept the offer, the EU would push for an immediate vote on Security Council action, diplomats at a meeting of the
International Atomic Energy Agency said.
The Europeans and Americans believed they could win a vote at the IAEA. But both China and Russia hold veto power on the Security Council and could block any action there against Iran — including possible sanctions — over its suspect nuclear program, so a delay would give the EU time to seek wider support.
While the new offer backed off threats of forcing a vote on immediate referral, it implicitly would establish the basis for later Security Council involvement by asking the board to find Iran guilty of noncompliance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
A previous EU draft resolution, which remained on the table, called on the 35 nations of the IAEA board to report Iran to the
United Nations’ highest decision-making body during this session.
Both drafts formally were EU initiatives but were introduced in close consultation with Washington and had support from Australia, Japan, Canada and others on the IAEA board. More than a third of the nations on the board opposed putting Iran before the Security Council.
The Europeans kept both options alive in hopes that even opponents of referral reluctantly would accept the toned-down draft, diplomats familiar with the West’s strategy said.
That would suit both the EU and Washington by giving them time to work on winning over Russia while keeping the pressure on Iran to comply with demands to again freeze uranium conversion activities and cooperate fully with IAEA inspectors.
China was considered immovable in its opposition to referral, and Alexander Rumyantsev, Russia’s atomic energy chief, on Thursday reiterated Moscow’s opposition to referring Iran to the council.
But a European official said that “we think we can gain Russia at a later date.” Like other diplomats, the official demanded anonymity in exchange for discussing confidential details of the behind-the-scenes negotiations.
The U.S. government sought for years to take Iran before the Security Council because of Washington’s suspicions it is trying to develop nuclear weapons, a charge the Iranians deny. Tehran maintains its intentions are to generate electricity.
The EU got on board in August after Iran resumed uranium conversion — a precursor to enrichment, which produces material usable both for fueling nuclear reactors and for building atomic bombs. That led France, Britain and Germany to break off talks with Tehran on reducing suspicions about its nuclear program.
Beyond establishing the grounds for Security Council action on Iran’s noncompliance with the NPT, the latest EU draft resolution held the additional threat of future referral. It said the next board meeting would decide on the “the timing and content” of a report to the council on Iran’s nuclear activities.
Still, it was less direct than the other text, which would ask IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei to report to the council on “Iran’s many failures and breaches of its obligations to comply” with the treaty. It also would ask the council to expand the IAEA’s inspection powers in Iran.
Neither text called for Security Council sanctions. But a senior diplomat from a nonaligned country opposed to referral said that even the milder draft — with its implicit referral threat and its strong language on Iran’s nuclear program — likely would be unacceptable to Iran’s allies on the board.
A diplomat familiar with U.S. thinking said acceptance of the new draft would suit Washington, which was not interested in a Security Council battle it cannot win against veto-wielding permanent members Russia and China.
Gregory Schulte, the chief U.S. representative to the IAEA, told reporters that while “reporting Iran’s noncompliance to the U.N. Security Council is long overdue … we support the European Union’s effort to continue to develop the broadest possible consensus.”