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UN nuke watch dog governors meet today
VIENNA, SEPT 21 (Reuters):
Published on 22 Sep. 2008 12:14 AM IST
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U.N. nuclear watchdog governors meet on Monday to consider Iran's blockade of an investigation into alleged atom bomb research, but a resurfacing of Cold War-style tensions will prevent them doing much about it. A second inquiry targeting Syria has faltered too. Meetings of the 35-nation body have at times been dry runs for U.N. Security Council action against suspected nuclear proliferators. But unity of purpose, never guaranteed, has been further undermined by tensions between Russia and the West. With the two sides at odds over Russia's invasion of Georgia, diplomats said consensus on even a largely symbolic resolution against Iran by International Atomic Energy Agency governors was out of the question in Vienna this week -- let alone tougher sanctions by the Security Council in New York. Western powers at the IAEA board meeting will call again on Iran to stop stonewalling or risk more punishment, but their demand will lack teeth in the absence of any realistic prospect for new sanctions. Russia, China and developing states, together comprising over half of the governors, were likely to stress the need for cooperation by Iran but also dialogue, not punishment. "There's no basis for action here and you won't see any effective action in New York for quite a while," a senior Vienna diplomat said after six-power talks, soured by friction over Georgia, went nowhere in Washington on Friday. The IAEA believes Iran is withholding information needed to explain "serious" intelligence allegations that it conducted a series of linked projects to process uranium, test high explosives and revamp a missile cone in a way suitable for a nuclear warhead. A Sept. 15 IAEA report detailed Iranian non-cooperation with agency requests for documents and access to sites to back up Iran's denials of the allegations. Senior U.N. officials said the IAEA had "reached gridlock" with Iran. "Not really. It's more like a roadblock. Iran has erected a whole series of them. You can read a great deal of frustration in the report's language," Gregory Schulte, U.S. ambassador to the IAEA, told Reuters. Iran says the intelligence is forged and sites the IAEA wants to examine are purely conventional military facilities any nation would keep off-limits on security grounds. Tehran meanwhile has slowly but steadily expanded its uranium enrichment campaign in defiance of Security Council demands. It now has almost 4,000 centrifuge machines refining uranium with 2,000 more being installed, the report said. U.S. analysts said Iran seemed to be nearing the capacity to produce enough fuel for a nuclear weapon within two years. Iran says it wants nuclear power only in order to generate electricity, not to develop a bomb. The IAEA began probing Syria in April based on U.S. intelligence suggesting a desert complex destroyed by an Israeli air strike in 2007 was a nascent nuclear reactor of North Korean design meant to make plutonium for atom bombs. Satellite pictures show Syria swiftly bulldozed the area and removed debris in a possible cover-up, U.S. analysts say. Syria denies having a covert nuclear programme. It gave IAEA inspectors access to the site at al-Kibar in June. But partial results of environmental samples they took there bore no traces of a reactor and Syria has refused IAEA visits to three other sites, all military, seen as linked to al-Kibar and key to clearing up the mystery, diplomats said. "The IAEA has no way of proving anything now," one said. IAEA governors are also confronted by North Korea's reversal from a deal to dismantle its nuclear arsenal. There was no sign of the maverick Stalinist state preparing to remove IAEA cameras and seals installed in 2007 to verify its nuclear shutdown, diplomats said. But governors were expected to urge Pyongyang to recommit to a six-nation process that established a disarmament-for-aid agreement.

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