Middle East Time
UN atomic agency cuts aid to Iran
Michael Adler
March 8, 2007

BRIEFING: Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's ambassador to the IAEA, briefs the media during an IAEA board of governors meeting at Vienna's UN headquarters March 7.

VIENNA -- The UN atomic watchdog unanimously approved Thursday a cut of almost half its aid programs to Iran as part of UN sanctions over Iran's nuclear program, an IAEA spokesman said.

The International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA's) 35-nation board of governors formalized cuts in technical aid that were started after a UN Security Council resolution adopted December 23.

"The reduction in aid was adopted by consensus," the spokesman said.

The Security Council resolution had imposed sanctions on Iran for continuing to enrich uranium and called for cuts in IAEA aid to Iran, which the United States accuses of seeking nuclear weapons.

Iranian Ambassador Ali Asghar Soltanieh bitterly criticized the cuts in comments to the board, a diplomat said.

Soltanieh said that Iran rejects the Security Council's interference in IAEA technical affairs.

Out of 55 national and regional projects that the IAEA has with Iran, 22, or 40 percent, have been either totally or partially frozen, according to IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei.

Tension is escalating over Iran's nuclear program, particularly its production of enriched uranium - which can be nuclear reactor fuel but also in highly refined form the explosive core of atom bombs.

Iran says that its program is a peaceful effort to generate nuclear power.

The United States had called for a strict interpretation of the Security Council's resolution on Iran and cuts of up to 50 percent of the aid programs, according to a US briefing paper.

The Security Council resolution said that states should stop aid to Iran, which might help it "make nuclear reactor fuel" or develop "nuclear weapon delivery systems."

The resolution says "technical cooperation provided to Iran by the IAEA ... shall only be for food, agricultural, medical, safety, or other humanitarian purposes."

A key role of the IAEA, besides its mission verifying compliance with the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), is to promote the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

In November last year, the IAEA had already rejected Tehran's request for technical help in building a heavy-water reactor in Arak that the West fears could provide plutonium, also a possible nuclear weapons material.

Examples from the IAEA report show approval of a project to help Iran "prepare therapeutic sources ... and radiopharmaceuticals for cancer treatment," saying this was "entirely for medical purposes."

But the agency said no to a project "to strengthen ... capabilities ... for provision of safe and reliable nuclear power generation capacities," saying that this was outside what is allowed in the UN resolution.

There was no question, however, of blocking IAEA aid to Iran's construction of its first nuclear reactor in Bushehr, a project for which Russia has a $1-billion contract, as the UN resolution said this was untouchable.


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