Israel welcomes referral of Iran to Security Council

By Yossi Melman

Haaretz

Shvat 7, 5766

VIENNA
- The United Nations nuclear watchdog's governing board approved a resolution Saturday referring the Iranian nuclear program to the UN Security Council.

The measure passed by a vote of 27 for to three against, with five member states abstaining.

In its resolution, the International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors included an unprecedented call for nations of the Middle East to be rid of nuclear weapons.

Meanwhile, Iran denied a report carried by the Mehr news agency that the president had ordered the resumption of nuclear fuel work in response to Iran's case being sent to the U.N. Security Council.

"(President Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad has not taken any fresh measures today," said a spokesman for the presidential office.

The spokesman added the letter carried by Mehr was written by Ahmadinejad late last year after parliament first passed legislation to resume uranium enrichment. He said this decree had not been issued to Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation.

Israel's envoy to the IAEA, Yisrael Michaeli, said the clause calling for a WMD-free zone in the Middle East is unacceptable, especially under present circumstances. While there is a consensus for the need to rid the region of weapons of mass destruction, approving such a call at this time is detrimental, Michaeli told the board.

In response to a query by Haaretz as to whether the resolution refers to Israel's nuclear weapons program, the U.S. Permanent Representative to the IAEA Ambassador Gregory Schulte replied that the resolution is in reference to Iran.

The idea of adding the clause followed disagreements among board member states over the wording of the resolution referring Iran to the UN Security Council over its nuclear program.

In a bid to win the support of non-aligned member states in the UN and thus muster a large majority for the resolution against Iran, several European states expressed support for the initiative to include in the resolution a call to create a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East.

Inclusion of the clause marks the first time which the UN Security Council will debate a resolution whose language explicitly calls for cleansing the region of nuclear weapons.

The IAEA resolution states that reporting Iran to the Security Council is necessary in "recogni[tion] that a solution to the Iranian issue would contribute to global nonproliferation efforts and to realizing the objective of a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction, including their means of delivery."

Jerusalem opposes diplomatic efforts, principally spearheaded by Egypt, to link the matter of Iran's alleged nuclear ambitions with its own suspected arsenal.

The final wording of the resolution does not refer directly to Israel but rather speaks of a general need to demilitarize the region from nuclear weapons.

Israel is not a member of the IAEA Board of Governors but its representatives regularly attend deliberations in an observer capacity.

On Friday night, the United States bowed to pressure from Europe, Russia, and China in agreeing to add the clause to the resolution, according to U.S. under secretary of state for political affairs, Nicholas Burns.

Israel's traditional stand has been that it does not oppose a nuclear-free Middle East, but that such a move should only follow peace agreements with the Arab states. Any discussion on such an initiative would be impractical and aims at undermining Israel's international standing, the Israeli position states.

Earlier, the U.S. announced it opposed the initiative, which was promoted primarily by Egypt. The three major European powers - Britain, France and Germany - which all support Iran's referral to the Security Council, agreed for the initiative to be included in the resolution.

The four powers held marathon talks all through Friday night in order to reach an agreement on the issue before the body is asked to vote on the resolution Saturday morning, after the vote was put off by one day following disagreement on the resolution's language.

To read about American lawmakers' reactions to the Iran nuclear problem, click here.

Iran threatens retaliation
Iran has threatened to retaliate in the face of almost certain referral to the UN Security Council over concerns Tehran is seeking nuclear weapons.

To read an analysis on Iran's fate, click here.

Analysts predict that after the board reconvenes, a majority of 25 to 30 will approve the resolution.

Thursday's opening board session adjourned after a few hours for backdoor negotiations which EU leaders hoped would yield the maximum number of "yes" votes possible. Cuba, Venezuela, Syria and a few other nations at odds with Washington remained opposed.

If reported, Iran has threatened to lash back by halting UN spot checks of its atomic sites as part of a world treaty to deter clandestine nuclear bomb-making. Tehran has also warned it would pursue "industrial-scale" enrichment of uranium fuel.

IAEA head Mohammed ElBaradei said the dispute was "reaching a critical phase."

Although the Security Council has the power to impose sanctions on Iran, it was not clear when the Security Council will discuss the issue or what, if any, steps it will take.

The council has intentionally set no date for when it will discuss the IAEA resolution because ambassadors say they want to study the document. Because of the delicacy of the issue, consultations will likely take place in private.

Iranian officials are expected in Moscow on February 16 for talks on Moscow's proposal to enrich uranium for Iran's nuclear program on Russia soil. The offer, backed by the United States and the European Union, is intended to make it more difficult for Tehran to develop weapons. Iranian officials have welcomed the proposal but say it needs work, leading to suspicions that they are stalling.