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Iranian Nuclear Program Divides US, Key European Allies - 2003-11-17

The United States and its key European allies are divided over Iran's nuclear program in advance of a key meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency governing board later this week in Vienna. Bush administration officials say Iran has not been completely forthcoming to European envoys about its nuclear program.

The Bush administration is giving key European foreign ministers credit for going to Tehran last month and getting a commitment from the Iranians to, among other things, stop enriching uranium.

But officials here continue to insist that Iran has been hiding a nuclear weapons program, and are concerned that this week's IAEA board meeting starting Thursday will end without a referral of the matter to the U.N. Security Council.

The issue was on the agenda at a State Department meeting between Secretary of State Colin Powell and German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, who made the trip to the Iranian capital last month along with his British and French counterparts.

At a news conference with Mr. Fischer, Secretary Powell took issue with an assertion earlier in the day by European Union chief diplomat Javier Solana that Iran has been "honest" in its dealings with the international community on its nuclear program.

"I wouldn't have gone quite as far. The Iranians have provided us a great deal of information. It confirms what the United States has been saying for some time, and which we believe, that the Iranian nuclear development program was for more than just the production of power, that it had an intent to produce a nuclear weapon. And I think that the information that has come forward establishes that," he said.

Germany, Britain and France are understood to be preparing a resolution for the 34-member IAEA board that criticizes Iran for failing to meeting some nuclear safeguards obligations, but avoids citing Iran for outright violations or referring the matter to the Security Council, which could impose sanctions.

In his remarks in Brussels, Mr. Solana said Iran had cleared some important hurdles with disclosures about its nuclear program, but must now implement a deal to open its nuclear sites to snap inspections. Mr. Fischer sounded a similar theme in his remarks, saying recent Iranian actions have been "quite positive" but that close scrutiny is needed.

"We are moving forward based on realism, and realism based on transparency. And these are the basic principles of the agreement the three of us, the foreign ministers of the United Kingdom, France and myself, reached with the Iranian side in Tehran. I think we are moving in the right direction. But we must go now into the details. It means full compliance and it must be measured by the IAEA. So if we are moving in the right direction, I think it's a good message. But it must be based on realism," he said.

Secretary Powell said he agreed with his German colleague on the need for realism, but said that means making sure that Iran discloses "every single thing there is to know" about its nuclear efforts so that the IAEA board can make an informed judgment.

He said based on what is already known about the Iranian program, there should be "serious concerns about judging too quickly" about whether Iran has provided "the full and complete story."

A senior diplomat here said United States wants Iran to be declared in non-compliance with its international nuclear obligations by the IAEA board, action that would require a referral to the Security Council, but that "not many" members of the board are inclined to do so at present.

He did not rule out such a finding at a later date, however, and said this week's two day session "will not be the end" of the meetings on the issue.