UN atomic agency to meet on Iran, North Korea
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VIENNA, March 4 (AFP) Mar 04, 2007
The watchdog UN atomic agency meets this week in Vienna amidst some of the most intense diplomatic manoeuvering in years over the Iranian and North Korean nuclear crises.
Western states are gearing up for a crackdown on Iran at the UN Security Council over its refusal to halt uranium enrichment, even as Iran and the United States are set to attend a regional conference that could lead to a breakthrough in contacts between the two adversaries.

The conference Saturday in Baghdad to discuss stabilizing Iraq will include about a dozen other states, but analysts point out the significance of Iran and the United States sitting at the same table.

The White House however denies a change in its foreign policy, noting that bilateral talks are not scheduled.

Meanwhile, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Mohamed ElBaradei is to visit North Korea later this month to start implementation of a landmark international agreement for Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapons program.

These developments are expected to overshadow a meeting of the IAEA's 35-nation board of governors opening Monday at which ElBaradei will report on Iran's defiance of the Security Council and the IAEA's cutting technical aid to Iran by almost a half.

A Western diplomat in Vienna said the board meeting should be free of controversy "in order to leave room for diplomacy elsewhere."

Another diplomat said about Iran: "Maybe there is light at the end of the tunnel. So it is better not to have fireworks for now" in Vienna.

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said Friday that the United States, four European powers and China had agreed on the framework for a new United Nations resolution toughening sanctions on Iran, whose refusal to freeze uranium enrichment feeds fears Tehran seeks nuclear weapons.

US officials said Saturday that only a few issues remained to be solved and said they hoped world powers could begin drafting a new UN resolution this week.

The moves in the Security Council come after ElBaradei reported February 22 that Iran had failed to comply with a Council deadline to halt uranium enrichment, and had in fact increased the scale of this work.

The Security Council passed a resolution on December 23 imposing limited sanctions on Iran and demanding it to by the end of February freeze enrichment, which makes fuel for civilian reactors but can also produce atom bomb material.

ElBaradei's report has already been passed on to the Security Council.

His report on technical aid has meanwhile been circulated in Vienna and both developed and developing nations are in agreement on reducing help for Iran, diplomats said.

US ambassador to the IAEA, Gregory Schulte, said last month that the cuts seem to meet "the requirements of UNSCR 1737," the Security Council resolution adopted December 23.

The resolution had called for stopping IAEA aid to Iran that could possibly help it make nuclear weapons.

Iran says its nuclear program is for electricity generation. Washington says Tehran is secretly developing the bomb.

Out of 55 national and regional projects that the IAEA has with Iran, 22, or 40 percent, were either totally or partially frozen.

Though the measures have been taken, the IAEA's board of governors could alter them.

But US approval is matched by a nod from non-aligned diplomats, who have said their states will follow ElBaradei's recommendations.

ElBaradei is set to visit North Korea after next week's board meeting to discuss the communist state's dismantling of its nuclear weapons program in line with an international agreement reached February 13.

IAEA officials refused to confirm the exact date of the visit.

ElBaradei said last month in announcing the trip that he would discuss with the North Koreans how best to implement dismantling the Yongbyon plutonium-producing reactor, the first step to be taken.

North Korea is to receive 50,000 tonnes of heavy fuel oil or equivalent aid in return for shutting down the reactor.

ElBaradei will report to the IAEA board after his return, with a special board meeting expected in Vienna later this month, a diplomat said.

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