The governing board of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna has unanimously approved a resolution calling on Iran to resume a freeze on its nuclear activities following Iran's resumption earlier this week of a program that many in the West suspect is aimed at building an atomic bomb. But, Iran has rejected the resolution as unacceptable.
The resolution, sponsored by the European Union and drafted by Britain, France and Germany, was adopted by consensus. That is, all 35 members of the IAEA governing board approved it.
It calls on Iran to fully suspend all activities related to the nuclear fuel cycle, ranging from conversion of uranium ore into uranium gas to enrichment of uranium gas in centrifuges to make fuel for reactors or atomic bombs. It also asks the IAEA to verify Iran's compliance with the resolution.
Peter Jenkins, the British representative to the IAEA, calls the approval of the resolution a demonstration of collective will that Iran should halt its nuclear work.
But Iran has reacted angrily, saying the resolution is unacceptable and illegal. Iran had warned earlier that an accord it negotiated with the European Union to temporarily suspend its nuclear activities in exchange for political and economic incentives would become void if the resolution were approved.
So, what happens, if as seems likely, Iran will not heed the IAEA's call? Mr. Jenkins, the British representative, says the matter could be referred to the United Nations Security Council next month, if Iran does not cease nuclear processing. He also warns that the nine-month-long negotiations between Iran and the EU could be broken off.
"I think, then, it's very difficult for the European Union to resume the process of negotiation, which has been interrupted by the events of the last 10 days," Mr. Jenkins said. "And then, we're having to start thinking about calling the board again, and considering bringing the whole matter to the attention of the U.N. Security Council, because it's the Security Council that can require with legal force Iran to freeze these nuclear activities."
But sanctions, even in the near future, seem unlikely. China, which has veto power on the Security Council, has said it does not favor that body taking up the issue of Iran's nuclear program.
Iran has always maintained that its nuclear program is designed for peaceful purposes and is aimed at generating electricity. The United States and, increasingly, the European Union believe the Iranians' intention is to build a nuclear weapons capability.
Despite Mr. Jenkins' hint that talks between the EU and Iran could break down, the resolution leaves open the possibility of further discussions between the two sides on resolving the nuclear impasse.