IAEA Chief Discourages Iran's Referral

VIENNA -- The chief UN nuclear inspector on Monday urged an end to confrontation over Iran's atomic program, and suggested talks over differences should take precedence over U.S. and European threats to send Tehran to the UN Security Council.

But the Western push for referral appeared back on track. Diplomats said U.S. and European officials at a key meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency had resumed work on a draft resolution calling for Security Council involvement, to be voted on later this week by the agency's 35-nation governing board.

Drafting the text was put on hold over the last few days, first to give Iran a chance to deflect the Security Council threat by offering sufficient concessions, and if that failed to happen, to try and get council members Russia and China on board.

European Union diplomats said both of those countries remained opposed to referral, despite strong lobbying by the Americans and Europeans. But they told The Associated Press that, at this point, it appeared likely that the Europeans, backed by the United States and other allies, would force the issue to a vote even at the risk of its defeat.

"The difficulty remains with Russia and China and some of the Third World countries," said one of the diplomats, demanding anonymity as a condition of discussing the sensitive state of behind-the-scenes maneuvering on Iran.

Outside the conference, IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei expressed relief over North Korea's offer to shelve its nuclear weapons ambitions, saying he hoped to have his inspectors in that country soon to supervise its return to the nonproliferation fold.

He appeared exasperated, however, at the standoff over Iran. "I think we regrettably ... are going though a period of confrontations and political brinkmanship," he said, indirectly chiding both Tehran's nuclear intransigence and the push for Security Council referral.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi warned against such action. He said Iran was not yet contemplating uranium enrichment but may change its mind "if the IAEA meeting on Monday leads to radical results."

Diplomats accredited to the IAEA, meanwhile, suggested Iran may have another card up its sleeve. The diplomats said Tehran might announce that it is ready to grant agency experts access to high-ranking military officials or sites.

 Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on the sidelines of a UN General Assembly on Monday asked the European Union to delay reporting Iran to the Security Council and EU ministers were receptive, two Europeans participants said, Reuters reported.

Another European participant said: "Lavrov said there were two possible scenarios: First, to go to the Security Council and see whether Iran blinks; second, to keep working at the IAEA and try to concentrate our efforts there and keep the consensus."

"We prefer to concentrate on the second option for now," he quoted Lavrov as saying.