Delegates to a 35-nation meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency on Thursday approved the suspension of nearly two dozen nuclear technical aid programs to Iran as part of U.N. sanctions imposed because its nuclear defiance.
The decision to deprive Iran of 22 projects was taken by consensus and was expected. Even nations on the IAEA board normally supportive of Iran backed the suspension because it was recommended by agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei, on authority of the U.N. Security Council.
"I have not heard anyone express dissatisfaction" with ElBaradei's recommendations, said Ramzy Ezzeidin Ramzy, Egypt's chief IAEA representative, before the decision, reflecting the meeting's widespread unanimity on the issue.
The suspensions fell under the provision of U.N. Security Council sanctions agreed on Dec. 23 to punish Iran for defying a council demand that it freeze its uranium enrichment activities. The five permanent council members now are consulting on additional sanctions after Tehran ignored a new ultimatum to stop enrichment last month.
Council diplomats in New York said these could include a travel ban, an expanded list of people and companies subject to an asset freeze, an arms embargo and trade restrictions, but they cautioned that differences remained.
While Iran says it has the legal right to develop an enrichment program to generate nuclear power, the Security Council has called on it to end such activities because of fears it could misuse the process to produce fissile material for warheads.
Before the decision on technical aid, Iran's chief IAEA delegate, Ail Ashlar Soltanieh, accused the United States and Israel of threatening military attacks on its nuclear facilities and said Security Council sanctions against his country were illegal.
Washington in turn criticized Tehran for ignoring Security Council demands to freeze uranium enrichment and said Iranian "intransigence" in answering questions about its nuclear program raises the level of concern that it might be seeking to make nuclear arms.
Those comments, inside and on the sidelines of the meeting, came as part of a review of a report by ElBaradei that confirmed Iran had defied a Security Council deadline on enrichment last month.
Soltanieh accused the U.S. and Israel of "continuing to make threats against Iran's ... (nuclear) facilities." But he suggested that Tehran's nuclear program would survive any aggression, citing ElBaradei in declaring that nuclear "knowledge cannot be bombed."
While not directly threatening attacks, both Israel and the U.S. have not ruled out any option in trying to stop what they say is an Iranian nuclear weapons program.
Soltanieh denied such aims, saying: "Weapons of mass destruction have no place in the Islamic Republic of Iran's defense doctrine." Iran steadfastly insists it is not interested in nuclear arms and wants to enrich uranium not to create the fissile core of warheads but to generate energy.
Outside the meeting, he attributed international pressure on Iran to give up enrichment to "the poisonous food served up by a few (IAEA) members and sent to New York," to the Security Council.
Reflecting the U.S. stance, chief delegate Gregory L. Schulte accused Iran of ignoring "the serious international concerns expressed by the Security Council" in demanding a freeze of enrichment.
Schulte also criticized Iran for continuing to build facilities that will produce plutonium — another possible pathway to nuclear arms — and thus again ignoring a Security Council demand. He cited ElBaradei in saying that his agency cannot conclude that Iran's program is peaceful unless Tehran stops stonewalling on questions posed by his agency. And he urged Tehran to reverse a ban on 38 IAEA inspectors, all from countries that back Security Council action against the Islamic republic.
A European Union statement touched on essentially the same points.
On North Korea, Japan and other nations urged Pyongyang to honor its commitments under a six-nation deal that ultimately commits it to scrap its nuclear weapons program. ElBaradei plans to go to the communist nation March 13 as part of the agreement.
North Korea forced IAEA monitors to leave in late 2002, withdrawing from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and reactivating its frozen nuclear program, which led to its first atomic weapons test in October.
The Feb. 13 deal reached in Beijing calls for North Korea to close its main nuclear complex in Yongbyon, north of Pyongyang, allow IAEA monitors back into the country to verify the closure, and then disable all its nuclear facilities.
In return, North Korea would get economic assistance and political incentives, including the creation of a bilateral working group on establishing diplomatic relations with the U.S.
Also at the Vienna meeting, a letter from 17 Arab nations plus Palestinian authorities called for Israel to be put under agency inspections, asserting that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert last year acknowledged that his country had nuclear weapons — something Olmert has denied doing.