UN Freezes Iran Aid Programs

VIENNA -- A 35-nation meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency on Thursday approved the suspension of 22 nuclear technical aid projects to Iran as part of UN sanctions, as Tehran defiantly said the move would not stop it from enriching uranium.

The decision to deprive Iran of the aid projects was by consensus and was expected. Even nations on the IAEA board normally supportive of Iran backed the suspension because it was recommended by agency chief Mohammed ElBaradei, on the authority of the UN Security Council.

"I have not heard anyone express dissatisfaction [with ElBaradei's recommendations]," said Ramzy Ezzeidin Ramzy, Egypt's chief IAEA representative, before the decision, reflecting the meeting's unanimity on the issue.

Ali Ashgar Soltanieh, Iran's chief delegate to the IAEA, dismissed the decision -- along with other international moves to pressure his country to suspend uranium enrichment -- as the work of a "few countries ... to deprive Iran from its inalienable rights for [the] peaceful use of nuclear energy."

"None of these projects is related to enrichment," he said of the suspensions. "The enrichment program will continue as planned."

IAEA technical aid projects are meant to bolster the peaceful use of nuclear energy in medicine, agriculture, waste management or power generation. The technical aid is provided to dozens of states, most of them developing countries.

Soltanieh also criticized the United States and Britain for their support of Israel, saying its undeclared nuclear program endangers "both regional peace and security."

Those comments were in response to a letter from 17 Arab states plus Palestinian authorities that called for Israel to be put under agency inspections. The letter asserted that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert last year acknowledged that his country had nuclear weapons -- something Olmert has denied doing.

Israel, in a brief statement, said it had no plans to change its nuclear policies, an IAEA official who was at the closed meeting said.

The suspensions of technical cooperation fell under the provision of Security Council sanctions agreed to on Dec. 23 to punish Iran for defying a council demand that it freeze its uranium enrichment activities. The five permanent council members now are consulting on additional sanctions after Tehran ignored a new ultimatum to stop enrichment last month.

Council diplomats in New York said these could include a travel ban, an expanded list of people and companies subject to an asset freeze, an arms embargo and trade restrictions, but they cautioned that differences remained.

While Iran says it has the legal right to develop an enrichment program to generate nuclear power, the Security Council has called on it to end such activities because of fears that it could misuse the process to produce fissile material for warheads.

Before the decision on technical aid, Soltanieh accused the United States and Israel of threatening military attacks on its nuclear facilities and said Security Council sanctions against his country were illegal.

Washington in turn criticized Tehran for ignoring Security Council demands to freeze uranium enrichment and said Iranian "intransigence" in answering questions about its nuclear program raised the level of concern that it might be seeking to make nuclear arms.