IAEA Censures Iran Over Nuclear Program

The International Atomic Energy Agency voted Friday to censure Iran over its suspect nuclear program. With the country still refusing to suspend its uranium enrichment, Friday's rebuke puts Iran and the international community on a course of possible confrontation early next year.

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Time is running out for Iran. That was the message today from the International Atomic Energy Agency. The IAEA overwhelmingly adopted a resolution rebuking Iran for conducting nuclear activities in secret and for ignoring U.N. Security Council resolutions. Those resolutions demand that Iran suspend uranium enrichment. The response from Iran was: no.

NPR's Mike Shuster has the story.

MIKE SHUSTER: The stage was set for today's action by the IAEA when its director, Mohamed ElBaradei, addressed the agency's 35-nation board of governors yesterday. ElBaradei has been working hard behind the scenes to find a compromise with Iran on its nuclear activities, and to illicit answers from Tehran on a variety of outstanding questions which point to possible clandestine nuclear weapons activities. ElBaradei used unusually blunt language to describe his efforts.

Mr. MOHAMED ELBARADEI (Director, International Atomic Energy Agency): There has been no movement on remaining issues of concern, which need to be clarified for the agency to verify the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program. It is now well over a year since the agency was last able to engage Iran in discussions about these outstanding issues. We have effectively reached the dead end.

SHUSTER: Given the stalemate, most of the members of the IAEA were willing to join the U.S. and Europe in backing the censure of Iran. The resolution criticized Iran for the secret construction of a second uranium enrichment facility at Fordo, south of Tehran, whose existence was only revealed in September, and for ignoring three U.N. Security Council resolutions calling for Iran to suspend uranium enrichment. The resolution also expressed serious concern that Iran's behavior points to possible military dimensions in its nuclear program.

Senior U.S. officials, today, welcomed the adoption of the resolution and were pleased that both Russia and China signed on. Both have close relations with Iran and have expressed a reluctance to take any action that would jeopardize those relations, especially additional sanctions. Today, senior U.S. officials pointed to the possibilities of what they called serious consequences if Iran doesn't begin to cooperate fully with the IAEA by the end of the year. But the U.S. representative at the IAEA, Glyn Davies, emphasized the U.S. wants a diplomatic resolution of this problem.

Mr. GLYN DAVIES (U.S. Representative, IAEA): United States remains fully committed to a peaceful resolution to international concerns over Iran's nuclear program.

SHUSTER: Still, Davies added:

Mr. DAVIES: Our patience, and that of the international community, is limited.

SHUSTER: British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, referring to the IAEA action, had no qualms today giving quite clear expression to that impatience.

Prime Minister GORDON BROWN (Britain): This is a definitive answer from whole of the world, a massive majority, 25-3. The world is sending a signal to Iran that this is completely unacceptable, that we now know what their level of nuclear ambitions are, that they must desist from them. This is the strongest wording I've seen. The next stage will have to be sanctions if Iran does not, as it should, respond.

SHUSTER: For its part, Iran remained defiant. Tehran's ambassador to the IAEA, Ali Ashgar Soltanieh, rejected the resolution, adding that Iran would resist any pressure, resolution, sanctions and threats of military attack, although there were no such threats made today.

Mr. ALI ASHGAR SOLTANIEH (Iran's Ambassador to IAEA): The answer to the resolution is definitively no. We are not going to suspend our enrichment activities, we are not going to suspend the completion of the Fordo nuclear enrichment activity.

SHUSTER: And as if Iran's defiant stance needed any bolstering, it was revealed yesterday that the Iranian government has seized the Nobel Peace Prize medal awarded to human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi in 2003. Ebadi kept in a safety deposit box in Tehran but it has now been confiscated by authorities there. That has prompted a formal protest from the government of Norway, which administers the prize. The director of the Nobel Institute, Geir Lundestad, said today those who award the prize are quite aware that it can expose the winners to some danger.

Mr. GEIR LUNDESTAD (Director, Nobel Institute): We hope that the fact that she did receive their prize will give her some sort of protection because she is not the only one being persecuted. I mean, after the elections, we have seen a very significant increase, even in political executions in Iran. So, the situation is very serious.

SHUSTER: Ebadi is currently in London, reluctant to return to Iran in the violent aftermath of last June's disputed presidential election. Ebadi's husband was arrested in the crackdown and he has reportedly have been severely beaten.

Mike Shuster, NPR News.

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