VIENNA – The board of the U.N. nuclear watchdog censured Iran on Friday, with 25 nations backing a resolution that demands Tehran immediately freeze construction of its newly revealed nuclear facility and heed Security Council resolutions calling on it to stop uranium enrichment.
Iran remained defiant, with its chief representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency declaring that his country would resist "pressure, resolutions, sanction(s) and threat of military attack."
The resolution — and the resulting vote of the IAEA's 35-nation decision-making board — were significant on several counts.
The resolution was endorsed by six world powers — the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany — reflecting a rare measure of unity on Iran. Moscow and Beijing have acted as a traditional drag on efforts to punish Iran for its nuclear defiance, either preventing new U.N. Security Council sanctions or watering down their potency.
They did not formally endorse the last IAEA resolution in 2006, which referred Iran to the Security Council, starting the process that has resulted in three sets of sanctions against the Islamic Republic. Their backing for the document at the Vienna meeting thus reflected broad international disenchantment with Tehran.
"Six nations ... for the first time came together (and) ... have put together this resolution we all agreed on," Glyn Davies, the chief U.S. delegate to the IAEA, told reporters. "That's a significant development."
The resolution passed Friday by the IAEA Board of Governors sends a strong signal to Iran that its actions and intentions remain a matter of grave international concern.
The backing of Moscow and Beijing also appeared to signal possible support for any new Western push for a fourth set of U.N sanctions, should Tehran continue shunning international overtures meant to reach agreements that reduce concerns about its nuclear ambitions.
Davis declined to discuss sanctions but indicated time was running out for Tehran to take the proffered negotiating hand of the six world powers.
"The United States remains firmly committed to a peaceful resolution to international concerns over Iran's nuclear program," he said. "We also remain willing to engage Iran to work toward a diplomatic solution to the nuclear dilemma it has created itself, if Iran would only choose such a course.
"But our patience and that of the international community is limited," Davies said, urging Tehran to "demonstrate its exclusively peaceful (nuclear) intent, rather than to carry out more evasions and unilateral interpretations of its obligations."
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband was stronger, suggesting sanctions could be a next consideration in a statement saying the six powers remained committed to their "dual track" policy — a term alluding to attempts to engage Iran diplomatically but to turn to sanctions should the first track fail.
"We are waiting for Iran to respond meaningfully," he said. "But if it is clear that Iran has chosen not to do so, we will have no alternative but to consider further pressure on Iran, in line with the dual track policy we have been pursuing."
Strong support for the resolution at the meeting was also notable. Only three nations — Cuba, Venezuela and Malaysia — voted against the document, with six abstentions and one member absent.
That meant even most nonaligned IAEA board members abandoned Tehran, despite their traditional backing of the Islamic Republic.
The diplomats who reported the vote spoke on condition of anonymity Friday because of the sensitivity of the situation.
A separate resolution — a Russian initiative to establish an international nuclear fuel bank under IAEA oversight — was passed with 23 nations for, eight against, three abstentions and one nation absent. The opposed votes came from developing nations that fear such a fuel bank, meant to place uranium enrichment under international control, could impinge on their rights to develop indigenous nuclear programs.
Iran argues that attacks on its nuclear program are an assault on the rights of developing nations to create their own peaceful nuclear energy network. The United States and other nations believe Iran's nuclear program has the goal of creating nuclear weapons.
The IAEA resolution criticized Iran for defying a U.N. Security Council ban on uranium enrichment — the source of both nuclear fuel and the fissile core of warheads.
It also censured Iran for secretly building a uranium enrichment facility and demanded that it immediately suspend further construction. It noted that IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei cannot confirm that Tehran's nuclear program is exclusively geared toward peaceful uses, and expressed "serious concern" that Iranian stonewalling of an IAEA probe means "the possibility of military dimensions to Iran's nuclear program" cannot be excluded.
Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's chief delegate to the IAEA, shrugged off the vote, telling reporters: "I am relaxed."
Separately, in remarks to the closed meeting made available to reporters, he declared that "neither resolutions of the board of governors nor those of the United Nations Security Council ... neither sanctions nor the treat of military attacks, can interrupt peaceful nuclear activities in Iran, even a second," he told the closed meeting, in remarks made available to reporters.
In a letter to ElBaradei, Soltanieh suggested his country could in future further restrict IAEA access to its nuclear activities, arguing that leaks to the media of confidential information "pose security threat(s) against the Islamic Republic of Iran's nuclear facilities and activities."