Associated Press

Vienna, March 13:

A key meeting of the UN atomic agency decided today on how harshly to censure Iran for its spotty record of revealing suspect nuclear activities at a session overshadowed by Tehran’s decision to put nuclear inspections on hold for six weeks.

Iran’s announcement yesterday about the suspension of the inspections heightened tensions at a board of governors’ meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency, where members have been debating for days how to censure Iran over its failure to declare all its nuclear secrets.

Nonaligned nations had wanted to lighten the tone of the Iran resolution, while the United States and other Western nations that insist Tehran was interested in making nuclear arms had been pushing for harsher language. While the 13-nation non-aligned group had dropped most of its objections, they pushed through changed wording that effectively defers the threat of Security Council action against Iran until the board meets again in June. With agreement rea-ched, the full session of the board meeting was scheduled to reconvene later in the day to adopt the resolution, likely by consensus.

Diplomats familiar with the work of IAEA said that — if it remains in place — Iran’s move to freeze inspections poses an obstacle to the agency’s efforts to deliver a judgment by June on the nature of Tehran’s nuclear past and present.

“If they really have nothing to hide, it is further against their interests” to raise questions about why it is placing their nuclear activities off limits to outside perusal, said a diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity. The diplomat said Iran’s decision was either a result of fear that IAEA inspectors would find new incriminating evidence — or was an attempt to flex “political muscle” at the ongoing meeting.

Iranian representatives played down the freeze on inspections, saying they were postponed because they conflicted with next week’s celebration of the Iranian New Year. They said that authorities had made a mistake in originally scheduling the inspections for that time. Asked about the freeze today, Pirooz Hosseini, the chief Iranian IAEA delegate, declined to elaborate, saying only: “I’ll comment on that point once the resolution is finished.”

The inspectors were to have been in Iran next week as part of the UN agency’s examination of Iran’s nuclear programme.

David Albright, a former Iraq nuclear inspector who runs the Institute for Science and International Security, said from Washington that Iran would be “violating the Nonproliferation Treaty if the IAEA says: ‘We have to do inspections,’ and they don’t let them in. “If Iran doesn’t let the inspectors in, it will have to go before the (UN) Security Council,” he said by telephone. A US official told the AP that Iran “is certainly being pressured” by IAEA officials “to take their measure back.”