by Michael Adler (source: AFP)
Tuesday, September 11, 2007

VIENNA (AFP) – UN nuclear chief Mohamed ElBaradei walked out on an afternoon session Tuesday of his IAEA to protest an EU speech which did not fully support his deal for new inspections in Iran, diplomats told AFP.

“He walked out because the EU did not support the Secretariat,” a diplomat who was at the meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s 35-nation board of governors said.

“The Europeans gave a nasty statement and the director general (ElBaradei) walked out of the room,” a second diplomat said, demanding anonymity in return for revealing information about the closed-door session.

But a senior European diplomat said the EU supported ElBaradei and had only reiterated the IAEA chief’s view that the timetable needs “Iran’s full and active cooperation.”

IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming declined comment but several diplomats confirmed that ElBaradei had walked out in protest.

ElBaradei has been under pressure as the United States and other Western countries warn that a timetable for new inspections in Iran agreed by the IAEA and Tehran last month gives the Islamic republic room to delay new UN sanctions.

They also warn that it gives Iran time to continue improving its work on enriching uranium, which makes power reactor fuel but also atom bomb material.

Still, the United States and ElBaradei had closed ranks on the first day here Monday of a regular meeting of the IAEA board in urging Iran to meet the timetable and also to do more to show the world it does not seek the bomb, such as suspending uranium enrichment.

At issue is how to win guarantees that Iran’s nuclear work is peaceful, with US patience wearing thin as it presses for more UN sanctions but ElBaradei urging more inspections that could lead to talks on ending the crisis.

The European Union speech was given by Portuguese ambassador Joaquim Duarte, as Portugal is the current EU president.

Duarte hammered Iran for failing to suspend uranium enrichment “contrary to the decisions of the (UN) Security Council,” referring to three UN Security Council resolutions and two rounds of UN sanctions.

He said that since ElBaradei’s last report in May “Iran has further increased its enrichment capacities.”

The speech only mentioned briefly the timetable the IAEA worked hard to get and did not give it the diplomatic backing ElBaradei expected.

The timetable, in a report ElBaradei submitted to the board on Monday, is to resolve outstanding questions in the agency’s over four-year-old investigation of Iran on US charges that Tehran is using a civilian energy program to hide the development of nuclear weapons.

The speech focused on Iran’s lack of cooperation, including its refusal to provide early design information on new nuclear facilities, and called repeatedly on Iran to suspend uranium enrichment.

After walking out, ElBaradei stayed away until the session was adjourned at its regular time until Wednesday. The Portuguese speech was followed by speeches from Canada and Norway.

Just before the Portuguese speech, ElBaradei had receiving a rousing statement of support from the non-aligned movement, in a speech by Cuban ambassador Norma Miguelina Goicochea Estenoz as NAM leader.

She said “NAM shares the view that this work plan (timetable) is a ‘significant step forward'” and “reiterates its full confidence in the impartiality and professionalism of the Secretariat of the IAEA and its Director General, Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei.”

A diplomat said ElBaradei had expected the same personal tone of appreciation in the EU speech and took the lack of it as a rebuff to his sustained diplomatic efforts.

Iranian Oil Minister Gholamhossein Nozari, meanwhile, told reporters at an OPEC meeting in Vienna that Iran’s cooperation with the IAEA would have a “positive impact on energy markets.”

Nozari said the “proactive cooperation” of Iran “is an essential step towards a peaceful resolution of the nuclear issue.”

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