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IAEA To Vote On Demand Iran Freeze New Nuclear Site

IAEA Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei (right) told reporters at a joint press conference with German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle on November 25 that a nuclear-fuel swap within Iran is "not an option."

IAEA Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei (right) told reporters at a joint press conference with German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle on November 25 that a nuclear-fuel swap within Iran is "not an option."

VIENNA (Reuters) -- World powers are demanding that Iran immediately mothball a uranium-enrichment site it hid for years, heightening fears it is secretly planning to build atom bombs, in a resolution drafted by the UN nuclear watchdog.

Diplomats forecast majority approval for the resolution in a vote by the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) 35-nation governing board today or on November 27 in what would be its first action against Iran in almost four years.

The move reflects dismay over Iran's September disclosure of a second enrichment site it had been building clandestinely for two years, and frustration at Iran's holdup of an IAEA-brokered plan to give it fuel for its nuclear medical program if it parts with enriched uranium that could be used in weapons.

IAEA Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei today rejected Iran's assertions the deal lacks guarantees it will get the fuel in the end, a stance Western powers regard as stalling and a tacit admission its LEU will not be used for electricity generation, as Tehran insists.

"In view of the degree of mutual mistrust, it has extensive built-in guarantees, consisting of the IAEA taking custody of the (LEU) until it returned to Iran in the form of fuel," he told a meeting of the agency's 35-nation Board of Governors, his last before he retires on November 30 after 12 years in office.

El-Baradei noted that as an alternative, he had proposed transferring the LEU to a neutral third country such as Turkey, "which has the confidence of all parties," and remain there under IAEA supervision until Iran gets the reactor fuel.

Mounting Pressure

"I am disappointed that Iran so far has not agreed to the original proposal or alternative modalities, both of which I believe are balanced and fair and would greatly alleviate the concerns relating to Iran's nuclear programme." el-Baradei told Reuters in a rare interview on November 25 that Iran's demand to dilute the fuel pact was unacceptable because it could mean Tehran retaining enough enriched uranium for use in a nuclear weapon.

"They are ready to put material under IAEA control on an [Iranian] island in the Persian Gulf. But the whole idea as I explained to them, to defuse this crisis, is to take the material out of Iran," said el-Baradei.

"I do not think this will work as far as the West is concerned."

The last IAEA board resolution passed against Iran was in February 2006, when governors referred Tehran's case to the UN Security Council over its refusal to suspend enrichment and open up completely to IAEA inspections and investigations.

The new measure's sponsors were the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China, the sextet locked in a long standoff with Iran over its shadowy enrichment activity, alleged nuclear bomb research and restrictions on IAEA inspections.

...Including From Russia

Russian and Chinese support is significant, and expected to secure rare developing nation votes against Iran at the IAEA, since the two have often blocked a united stance against Iran in international security bodies.

It was unclear whether Moscow and Beijing's expression of disenchantment with Iran, an important trade partner for both, would translate into readiness for harsher UN sanctions Western powers will push for if the fuel deal falls through.

But Russia's Foreign Ministry today urged Iran to adhere to the deal.

"The Russia side especially underlined the necessity of observing the principles of the agreement, reached in negotiations on this theme in Geneva on October 1 between representatives of Iran and the six countries," a statement on the Russian Foreign Ministry website said.

The statement was released after Deputy Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov met Iran's ambassador to Moscow.

The statement said both sides exchanged views about Iran's nuclear program following the November 20 meeting in Brussels by political directors of Russia and the other five countries involved in the talks with Tehran.

A November 16 IAEA report said Iran violated a transparency statute by admitting the existence of the Fordow enrichment site only two months ago, at least two years after building began, and raised concern it could be harboring more secret sites.

Iran had previously assured the IAEA it was not concealing nuclear activity with potential weapons applications.

Resolution Could Backfire

The draft resolution, a restricted copy of which was obtained by Reuters, urged Iran to immediately halt construction of the Fordow plant, clarify its original purpose, and confirm it has no more hidden atomic activity or covert plans for any.

It voiced "serious concern" -- a diplomatic euphemism for alarm -- over its cover-up of the Fordow project and said it was in blatant breach of UN demands for an enrichment suspension.

It also called on Iran to shelve all enrichment-related activity as demanded by Security Council resolutions since 2006, grant unfettered IAEA inspections and open up to an IAEA probe into suspicions it conducted illicit nuclear weapons research.

But el-Baradei suggested to Reuters in the November 25 interview that the new resolution could backfire by aggravating Iran's siege mentality, boosting nuclear hard-liners.

Iran's envoy to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, told Germany's "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" newspaper today that the resolution would "endanger the prevailing constructive atmosphere" and have "long-term consequences."

He was alluding to IAEA efforts to broker a compromise to salvage the nuclear-fuel supply plan and Iran's stated readiness to resolve IAEA questions about the Fordow enrichment site.

"The P5+1 [six powers] will win the battle in the Board of Governors, but it will be only a simple majority, but lose the war to get Iran to be more cooperative," a senior diplomat from the bloc of developing nations said.

Tehran says the bunkered Fordow site, which is to start operations in 2011, is a backup for its much larger Natanz enrichment center in case it is bombed by foes such as Israel.

Western nuclear analysts say Fordow's low capacity makes it unsuitable for any purpose but to enrich smaller quantities of uranium suitable for a bomb. Enrichment plants generally need tens of thousands of centrifuges to feed a nuclear power plant.

compiled from multiple Reuters reports