VIENNA, May 7 (Reuters) Global talks on how to bolster the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty drifted closer to failure today as Iran withheld a decision on whether to accept a compromise to overcome its objections to the agenda.
''We do not have instructions from our capital yet. We hope it will be tomorrow,'' an Iranian diplomat told Reuters, three days after the compromise was floated to nudge Iran to stop blocking the consensus required to approve the agenda.
Western diplomats and analysts said Iran seemed bent on dragging out procedural manoeuvres to Friday's scheduled completion of the meeting to thwart a chairman's summary that might single it out for suspected noncompliance with the NPT.
Angry at being hit with UN sanctions for refusing to suspend uranium enrichment it insists is for electricity not atomic bombs as the West suspects, Iran has fought to prevent symbolically important criticism by fellow NPT members.
Yukiya Amano, Japanese chairman of the 130-nation gathering, reconvened it for just four minutes today to say he needed more time for back-room consultations to resolve the impasse, and said proceedings would resume later in the day.
The meeting, which began on April 30, was meant to set priorities to be fleshed out at follow-up annual meetings leading to the next fullscale NPT Review Conference in 2010.
But it has been largely paralysed by a procedural squabble with overtones of the standoff between Western powers and Iran over its contentious nuclear fuel programme, thwarting debate on proposals to reinforce the treaty.
Diplomats agreed that, barring an Iranian climbdown, Amano would need to decide by today or tomorrow on the fate of the meeting to avoid a farce of endless inconclusive consultations.
INVESTIGATIONS The NPT binds members without nuclear bombs not to acquire them, guarantees the right of all members to nuclear energy for peaceful ends, and obligates the original five nuclear powers from the post-World War Two era to dismantle arsenals in stages.
Iran denies as unfounded Western suspicions that it is covertly trying to build atom bombs behind the facade of a civilian nuclear energy programme within terms of the NPT.
But Tehran has not fully cooperated with UN nuclear watchdog investigations begun after sensitive Iranian nuclear fuel research was exposed by Iranian exiles in 2002.
Iran protested at a phrase in the NPT meeting agenda ''reaffirming the need for full compliance'' with the treaty.
It called this a blank cheque to target Iranian nuclear activity to the exclusion of what it and other developing nations see as serious challenges to the NPT, such as the slowness of nuclear weapons powers to phase out their arsenals.
South Africa on Friday proposed resolving the dispute by adding a ''clarifying'' attachment to the agenda text saying compliance meant ''with all provisions'' of the treaty.
Iranian diplomats raised no objections pending instructions from their capital.
REUTERS SYU RK1848