UN nuclear watchdog to ratify Iran aid cut

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Vienna, March 5: The UN nuclear watchdog's governing body is this week expected to ratify cuts in aid to Iran and scrutinise Tehran's defiant expansion of uranium enrichment, a possible route to atomic bombs.

Six world powers are now negotiating on widening sanctions against Iran for pressing ahead with its programme to enrich uranium and ignoring a February. 21 UN deadline to stop. US officials hoped the six could settle their differences soon.

The reduction in International Atomic Energy Agency technical aid to Iran's nuclear energy programme comes almost three months after the UN Security Council banned transfers of atomic technology and expertise to the Islamic Republic.

Iran denies it is secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons, insisting it only wants to generate more electricity.

At a meeting beginning today and likely to run 3-4 days, the IAEA's Board of Governors was expected to approve cuts to many of its technical aid projects in Iran to reflect initial UN Security Council sanctions passed in December.

The 35-nation board will however welcome an apparent nuclear climb-down by North Korea, diplomats said.

North Korea's confrontation with the world eased last month when it struck a deal with five countries including the United States and Russia to dismantle its nuclear arms programme and readmit IAEA inspectors expelled four years ago.

IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei goes to Pyongyang on March 13 to work out details of the shutdown, including production of plutonium, and redeploying inspectors by mid-April to ensure the mercurial Stalinist state upholds the pact.

If he comes back from North Korea with clearance to dispatch inspectors, the board will reconvene specially to formally approve their return, an IAEA official said.

IAEA-Iran Dispute over Surveillance

The board hoped for an ElBaradei update on Iranian atomic activity and an outlook for implementing the North Korea deal.

A February. 22 IAEA report said Iran had installed two cascades, or networks, of 164 centrifuges each in its underground uranium enrichment plant with another two close to completion.

That marked an effort to graduate from the research-level refinement of nuclear fuel to a basis for ''industrial-scale'' production with some 3,000 centrifuges due to be set up by May.

Iran had not begun pumping uranium gas into cascades at the Natanz plant for enrichment, as it had said it would by end of February, diplomats said. But it was still refusing to let the IAEA set up remote monitoring cameras in the cascade hall.

Iran says UN demands for it to halt uranium enrichment are illegal. But IAEA efforts to verify that Tehran's work is wholly peaceful have been stalled by Iranian evasions since 2004, a senior UN official said.

The board was expected to adopt without serious debate or amendments the IAEA's Secretariat's cutback last month of 22 of its 55 nuclear development aid projects in Iran.

The Secretariat acted to uphold a December ban on transfers of technology or know-how applicable to nuclear fuel production in the Islamic Republic.

Western powers on the board originally wanted more sweeping cuts.

Developing nations wanted a more accommodating approach.

But diplomats in both camps said they trusted the Secretariat's judgment. ''It was fair, balanced. A large majority favours its approach,'' said a Western diplomat.


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