Iran on Monday pledged to keep cooperating with the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency — at least for now — backing down from earlier suggestions it might sever ties in reaction to the agency's demand that it reveal its nuclear secrets by next month.
"Our cooperation with the agency shall continue as before," Iranian Vice President Gholamreza Aghazadeh told the general assembly of the International Atomic Energy Agency, adding that his country remained committed to preventing the spread of nuclear weapons.
Aghazadeh also said Iran would start "negotiations with the agency about the additional protocol," that would allow the IAEA thorough and unfettered inspections of all of its nuclear activities.
During negotiations that led to passage of a resolution setting the October deadline by the IAEA board of governors last week, Iran had suggested that it would scrap plans to accept that protocol.
While accusing "partisan politics in the United States" of being behind the "heavy-handed" resolution, Aghazadeh said Iran is "fully committed" to preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
Still, he suggested not all of its provisions could be met in such a short time frame.
"It seems that the resolution has been engineered in such a manner to guarantee its non- or half-implementation," said Aghazadeh.
The agency, the nuclear watchdog of the United Nations, seeks to ensure compliance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which aims to ban the spread of nuclear weapons. It monitors the status of nuclear materials in dozens of countries and promotes the peaceful use of nuclear technology. It also serves as a forum for global scientific and technical cooperation.
If an agency board meeting in November rules that Iran did not meet the demands contained in the resolution, it could rule Tehran in violation of the treaty. The board would then be obligated to report the noncompliance to the U.N. Security Council, which could recommend sanctions.
Although Aghazadeh's statements eased immediate concerns that Iran would cut ties with the agency and draw the curtain on its nuclear program, the Iranian vice president suggested his country still could turn more hardline. He said a final response was still being discussed by his government.
"We are studying the resolution carefully and will respond to it officially in a few days," he told delegates to the 135-nation conference.
Other delegation heads and IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei urged Iran to heed the resolution, which essentially asks Tehran to disprove it is running a secret nuclear weapons program. They also called on North Korea to scrap its existing arms program.
"It is essential and urgent that all outstanding issues be brought to closure as soon as possible, to enable the agency to provide the required assurances," that Iran is not running a secret weapons program, said ElBaradei.
Washington, which labeled Iran a member of an axis of evil with North Korea and pre-war Iraq, lobbied hard to get the toughly worded resolution passed.
The United States says Iran's nuclear program is a front for developing an atomic bomb, a charge Iran vehemently denies.
North Korea cut its ties with the agency last November, saying it had quit the Nonproliferation Treaty. It is now negotiating with the United States and four other countries on aid and other concessions it seeks in return for scrapping its nuclear weapons program.
ElBaradei said North Korea country poses "a serious and immediate challenge to the nuclear nonproliferation regime." He said he hoped for an agreement at those talks that would allow his agency to play a key role in monitoring North Korea's nuclear activities.
Touching on North Korea and Iran, President Bush, in a message to the conference read by Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, urged vigilance against states "trying to acquire nuclear weapons."
Abraham said attempts to stop the spread of nuclear weapons were challenged by "a few rogue states seeking the capacity to attain weapons of mass destruction." Indirectly linking North Korea and Iran, he urged IAEA member states to "take firm and necessary action" to stop new nuclear weapons states from emerging.
Japan's government minister, Hiroyuki Hosoda, warned that his country would "not accept" North Korean attempts to build nuclear weapons and urged Iran to fulfill its obligations by the October deadline.
Italian Deputy Foreign Minister Roberto Antonione, speaking on behalf of the European Union, urged Iran "to take all the necessary steps to ensure full transparency of this nuclear program and restore the confidence of the international community."
He called on North Korea to "dismantle its nuclear weapons program ... and meet the requirements of the Nonproliferation Treaty."
Unlike the board, the 135-nation general conference cannot set ultimatums or threaten nations with Security Council action. But it can recommend the IAEA secretariat take up matters of concern, which, in turn, can kick issues to the board.