US avoids Iran crisis in concession to EU

VIENNA, Austria (AP) — The U.N. atomic watchdog agency's board adopted a resolution Wednesday censuring Iran for past nuclear cover-ups.

The resolution, adopted by the 35-nation board of governors of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, did not confront Iran with a direct threat of sanctions — resolving a sticking point between the United States and key European powers over how to deal with Tehran.

The United States, which alleges that Iran plans to develop nuclear arms, had wanted a specific mention of Security Council action — with an implicit threat of sanctions — should Tehran fail to come clean on past nuclear secrets and renege on pledges to open present activities to full IAEA inspection.

The United States had to pull back from its hard line on Iran's nuclear programme to preserve its relations with European allies and avert a new crisis in the Middle East, analysts said Tuesday. Though it has still has major worries about Iran's nuclear capability, the administration of George W. Bush knows it cannot afford new international tensions less than one year from a presidential election, experts said. It will not call for Iran to be discussed at the UN Security Council for possible sanctions.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell said: "We are very satisfied with that resolution. The resolution notes all that Iran has been doing over the years with respect to its nuclear programmes. It notes that Iran has been in breach of obligations."

But Washington wants to make sure that if Iran is found to be hiding elements of its nuclear programme "there is a mechanism to getting tougher”, said Jon Wolfsthal, a disarmament specialist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace think tank in Washington.

Brenda Shaffer, an Iran expert at Harvard Univerity, said the Iran nuclear crisis has come at "quite an inopportune time for washington, on the verge of a presidential election year and already burdened with Iraq, Afghanistan, the war on terrorism, North Korea an potentially recurrent Middle Eastern crises."

In an article for the Arms Control Today review she said the Bush administration is sceptical about the European agreement with Iran but wants "to avoid a showdown with its European allies and with Iran at a time that its agenda is so overloaded."

The European accord has led to Iran filing a comprehensive report on its nuclear programme, pledge to allow wider inspections and suspend the enrichment of uranium.

In return, Iran was promised the issue would not go to the Security Council.

[information of Associated Press and]

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