MARCH 9 2006



US demands drastic action as Iran nuclear row escalates

The US called for extraordinary action to get to the bottom of Iran's nuclear programme yesterday as Tehran and Washington moved into confrontational mode in the long running dispute.


The American ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Greg Schulte, called for "special inspections" by the UN nuclear teams in Iran, in effect giving them carte blanche in their detective work, at the Vienna meeting of the IAEA board that is reporting Iran to the UN security council. The mechanism has been used only once before, unsuccessfully, in North Korea 13 years ago.


Capping a long campaign to take the nuclear row to the security council, Mr Schulte said: "The time has now come for the security council to act ... It should emphasise that Iran will face consequences if it does not meet its obligations."


Iran reacted furiously, squaring up to the US and making implicit threats to use oil as a weapon against it.


"Let the ball roll," said Javad Vaeidi, the deputy head of Iran's national security council, using the words used against Iran at the weekend by the US hawk and ambassador to the UN, John Bolton.


"The United States may have the power to cause harm and pain. But it is also susceptible to harm and pain," he said.


Despite talk all week of a compromise brokered by the Russians which could have allowed all sides to save face and resume negotiations, the IAEA meeting ended with positions more entrenched the Iranians determined to retain the uranium enrichment programme at the core of the dispute, and the Americans calling the shots in what is decided by the security council.


The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said yesterday that imposing sanctions on Iran would not convince it to curb its nuclear ambitions.

While the Europeans and the Americans said the security council would proceed cautiously, diplomats predicted that the dispute could escalate rapidly when it moves to New York next week.


Mr Schulte said Iran had 85 tonnes of uranium stockpiled for enrichment enough for 10 nuclear bombs and that it was bent on building the capacity to process the material.


A statement by Britain, France and Germany said action by the security council was inevitable. There was "no credible civil use" for the stockpile of uranium gas that can be processed into fissile material.


Resorting to special inspections would be "much more intrusive" than the IAEA's ongoing inspections in Iran, said a diplomat. But was up to the IAEA to decide.






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