Major Powers Put Pressure on Iran

Six countries get tough on Iran.

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VIENNA (Reuters) - Major powers closed ranks on Thursday to increase pressure on Iran to address fears about its atomic ambitions, and the U.N. nuclear chief said it was his duty to "alert the world" about suspected Iranian efforts to develop atom bombs.

The six powers involved in diplomacy on Iran -- the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany -- overcame divisions exposed by a hard-hitting U.N. nuclear report on Iran last week and presented a united front toward Tehran.

They hammered out a joint resolution in intense negotiations and submitted it to the 35-nation board of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), a Vienna-based U.N. body, which is expected to debate and vote on it on Friday. [Read: Foreign Policy Debate a Battle of Rhetoric Vs. Reality.]

But it will not satisfy those in the West and in Israel, Iran's arch-enemy, who had hoped IAEA head Yukiya Amano's document would trigger concrete international action to rein in Tehran, such as an IAEA referral of its case to the U.N. Security Council.

Last week's IAEA report, which assessed that Iran has been conducting research and experiments geared to developing a nuclear weapons capability, has stoked tensions in the Middle East and raised a clamor in Western capitals for harsher sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

Amano stressed the need for Iran to engage in serious talks to clarify issues in his report and said he wanted to send a high-level mission to the country to tackle increasing concerns about the nature of its nuclear activities. [Read Ken Walsh: GOP Candidates Refuse to Give Up.]

"It is clear that Iran has a case to answer," Amano told a news conference on the sidelines of the board meeting.

"We have to alert the world before nuclear proliferation actually takes place."

Iran says it is enriching uranium only for nuclear power plants, not weapons, dismissing the intelligence information in the IAEA report obtained mainly from Western states as fabricated, and accusing the IAEA of pro-Western bias. [Check out our editorial cartoons on the GOP.]

Amano said agency experts had examined the information carefully and put together a "clear, coherent and consistent picture" about Iran's activities.

He said he had written to the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani, this month to suggest the visit, which would air issues raised by the IAEA report.

Amano said he hoped a "suitable date" could be agreed soon for his team's visit to Iran, which permits IAEA inspections of declared nuclear sites but since 2008 has stonewalled an agency investigation into "alleged studies" applicable to atom bombs.

BIG POWER DIVISIONS

"Throughout the past three years, we have obtained additional information which gives us a fuller picture of Iran's nuclear program and increases our concerns about possible military dimensions," Amano told the board.

"The information indicates that Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device," he said, in his bluntest public statement so far on Iran's contested nuclear program.

Diplomats described the powers' draft as a compromise text between Western states, which would have preferred tougher language, and Russia and China, which resisted.

It expressed "deep and increasing concern" about Iran's nuclear program and called on it to open up fully to U.N. inspectors, according to a draft seen by Reuters.

The text urged Iran "to engage seriously and without preconditions in talks" to address nuclear concerns and asked Amano to report back to the board's next meeting in March.

It stopped short of actions with teeth such as reporting Iran once again to the Security Council, which has imposed four rounds of sanctions on the major oil producer since 2006. Russia and China oppose any more extensive measures.

But the fact that the six big powers ironed out an IAEA resolution will be welcomed in the West after Amano's report prompted Russia to complain that it was politicized and dimmed chances of a negotiated solution to the Iran nuclear dispute.