VIENNA -- The UN's nuclear watchdog agency has passed a resolution rebuking Iran for failing to cooperate fully over its suspect nuclear program.
The resolution expresses “serious concern” about Iran’s continued enrichment of uranium and its heavy-water activities.
The United States, Israel, and other countries believe Iran is intent on building an atomic bomb. Tehran says its nuclear activities are purely for peaceful purposes.
The latest resolution also calls on Tehran to let nuclear inspectors into specific areas within the Parchin military complex, where the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) suspects Iran conducted tests a decade ago related to nuclear weapons.
The resolution, supported by more than two-thirds of the IAEA’s 35 board member states, was proposed by the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France, and Germany.
The U.S. acring ambassador to the IAEA, Robert Wood, said the resolution stepped up pressure on Iran. “This resolution sends a very, very strong signal to Iran that the diplomatic pressure is increasing, it is intensifying, and that Iran’s isolation is growing,” Wood said.
'Lessons From The Past'
Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA, Ali Soltanieh, called the resolution counterproductive.
"The resolution is not helping the resolution of [the] Iran nuclear issue. It complicates the situation. It will politicize [it] more," Soltanieh said.
"It will jeopardize the environment of cooperation. And they have to learn the lessons from the past: Whenever there have been resolutions at the Security Council or even the board of governors, it was counterproductive. I have always advised to let us work quietly with the IAEA."
Iran's envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Ali Asghar Soltanieh
Mark Hibbs, a senior associate of the Nuclear Policy Program at the Bonn-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, calls the resolution important for two reasons.
“It keeps the pressure up on Iran. It makes known to Iran and the rest of the world that the board will remain seized of this problem," Hibbs says. "And the resolution warns Israel, in two specific paragraphs in the resolution, that it should support the diplomatic process.”
The warning, which does not mention Israel specifically, takes the form of reaffirming that the international community seeks a peaceful, negotiated solution to the Iran nuclear crisis.
Israel, which is a member of the IAEA, has stepped up pressure on Iran in recent days by suggesting it is running out of patience with international efforts to talk with Iran.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week criticized U.S. President Barack Obama for not setting “red lines” for the crisis, suggesting Israel is increasingly impatient to take military action.
Satellite photos of Iran's Parchin military complex
However, reaching a consensus on the resolution in Vienna did not prove easy. The proceedings were repeatedly delayed by a South African proposal to amend the text.
South Africa sought to modify wording in the draft resolution calling upon Iran to immediately implement the IAEA’s request that Tehran follow a structured approach to answering questions about the possible military dimensions of its nuclear program.
South Africa said the demand should bind Iran to do so only after the form the structured approach would take had been concluded.
The IAEA wants Iran to answer the questions without conditions. But Iran wants a process whereby the outstanding questions about its military program are addressed one by one, then taken permanently out of discussion as each is considered answered.
South Africa has not spoken publicly about why it proposed the amendment to the draft resolution’s wording. But debates at the IAEA often involve tensions between major powers and members of the Nonaligned Movement of smaller nations.
The smaller nations want to be sure that the IAEA does not appear to be dictating terms to them and that their right to negotiate with the IAEA is preserved.
South Africa, Egypt, and Iran have often been among the loudest voices at the IAEA among the nonaligned states. Iran is currently the chairman of the Nonaligned Movement and hosted the 120-nation organization’s annual conference last month in Tehran.
The South African proposal initially alarmed Western states, which feared it would weaken the resolution. However, compromise was reached to change the resolution text, though not as much as the South African proposal, clearing the way for a vote.
Only Cuba voted against the resolution. Three countries, including Egypt, abstained, according to diplomats who took part in the closed-door meeting at IAEA headquarters in Vienna.
The draft resolution comes after an IAEA report last month said Iran had doubled its enrichment capacity during the last three months. The report also said that, since May, Iran has increased by one-third its stock of uranium enriched to a level of 20 percent.
Uranium enriched to 20 percent is considered a short hop technically to enrichment to the 90 percent levels needed for nuclear weapons.