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EU opposes atomic aid for Iran at tense IAEA meet

Written by: Staff

VIENNA, Nov 20 (Reuters) The European Union urged a politically charged meeting of the U N nuclear agency today to deny Iran's request for help with a facility that could yield plutonium for atom bombs.

The International Atomic Energy Agency's 35-nation governing board has repeatedly asked Iran not to pursue the Arak heavy water reactor project. Tehran has vowed to complete it and applied for IAEA expertise to ensure it meets safety standards.

Although IAEA approval of such requests is usually routine, Western board members say the Arak case must be rejected given Iran's record of evading IAEA non-proliferation inspections and its defiance of U N demands to stop enriching uranium.

''We cannot support providing technical assistance to a ...

project that ... would in future produce significant quantities of plutonium and involve a significant (nuclear) proliferation risk,'' Finnish envoy Kirsti Helena Kauppi, speaking on behalf of the EU, told the IAEA board.

The United States, along with Canada and Australia, also opposes IAEA assistance for Iran on Arak but allowed the EU to take the lead on the issue at this week's board meeting.

Developing nation diplomats said rejecting Iran's request would set a politicised precedent for withholding technical aid from them for peaceful atomic energy programmes.

Iran denies intent to derive plutonium from Arak, saying it would produce only radio-isotopes for medical uses, replacing a smaller light-water reactor that predates Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution and is said by Tehran to be obsolete.

Diplomats said the most likely outcome was a compromise to defer a decision pending guidance from the Security Council, where world powers are deliberating sanctions on Iran but are split over how tough they should be.

''Deferral is the most likely option as it would help avoid alienating developing nations on the board and buy time to see what the Security Council will do to resolve this battle elsewhere,'' a senior IAEA diplomat told Reuters today.

DEAL CONSIDERED Diplomats said most board members wanted to avoid a divisive vote that Iran was sure to lose and blame on Western bullying.

They said a deal was being considered under which the board would shelve the Arak item while approving seven other aid requests submitted by Iran seen as less problematic.

They include developing radiation therapy for medical ends, help in commissioning a Russian-built nuclear reactor not deemed a proliferation risk, and regulatory aspects of nuclear energy.

The Arak case, on which a board ruling was expected later in a week-long meeting, has symbolised the diplomatic crisis over the Islamic Republic's nuclear ambitions.

Tehran says these are limited to generating electricity. The United States and EU fear Iran is seeking bombs to threaten Israel and Western interests in the West Asia.

Iran vows to build the reactor whether IAEA safety aid is granted or not. It is one of 820 proposals from 115 nations to be considered by a board committee today through Wednesday and ratified at a full board conference on Thursday and Friday.

Ana-Maria Cetto, IAEA deputy director for technical cooperation, said the agency had no legal objections to the Arak request as it did not involve uranium enrichment-related or fuel-reprocessing work the Security Council ordered suspended.

Russia and China, now resisting U N sanctions sought by Western powers, voiced no objections to the Arak request.

Iranian IAEA envoy Aliasghar Soltanieh, accused the West of politicising technical aid.

''By approving this project, the IAEA will have much more presence and supervision at Arak than before, continuously monitoring and giving safety advice,'' Soltanieh told reporters.

Reuters SP DB2305

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