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US and European allies divided to confront Iran at IAEA

US and European allies divided to confront Iran at IAEA

US and European allies divided to confront Iran at IAEA

US and European allies divided to confront Iran at IAEA

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  • The US has not wanted to seek another resolution against Iran at recent IAEA board meetings.
  • Tensions in the Middle East are high as Israel continues its military campaign in Gaza.
  • The death of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi complicates the situation.
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Diplomats say the US and its three top European allies are divided over whether to confront Iran at the UN nuclear watchdog by seeking a resolution against it, risking further escalation. The Europeans are in favor. It has been 18 months since the International Atomic Energy Agency’s 35-nation Board of Governors last passed a resolution against Iran, ordering it to cooperate urgently with a years-long IAEA investigation into uranium particles found at three undeclared sites.

While the number of sites in question has narrowed down to two, Iran still hasn’t explained the traces, and the number of other problems in Iran, including Tehran’s barring of many of the IAEA’s top uranium enrichment experts from the inspection team, has risen. A quarterly Board of Governors meeting begins in 10 days.

“It’s extremely difficult with Iran and the level of violations is unprecedented … There is no slowing down of its program and there is no real goodwill by Iran to cooperate with the IAEA,” a senior European diplomat said.

“All our indicators are flashing red.”

Concern about Iran’s atomic activities has been high for some time. Iran has been enriching uranium to 60 percent purity, close to the roughly 90 percent that is weapons-grade, for three years. According to an IAEA yardstick, it has enough material enriched to that level, if refined further, for three nuclear bombs.

Western powers assert that there is no credible civilian energy purpose in enriching to that level, and the IAEA states that no other country has done so without making a nuclear weapon. Iran maintains that its objectives are entirely peaceful.

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However, the United States has not wanted to seek another resolution against Iran at recent IAEA board meetings. Before the last one, in March, the European powers — France, Britain, and Germany, known as the “E3” — disagreed with Washington on whether to seek a resolution but then backed down.

Officials often cite the US presidential election as a reason for the Biden administration’s reluctance. But the main argument made by US officials is to avoid giving Iran a pretext to respond by escalating its nuclear activities, as it has done in the past.

Tensions in the Middle East are running particularly high as Israel continues its military campaign in Gaza in response to Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack. Last month saw direct strikes between Israel and Iran for the first time, and Israel has repeatedly threatened to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities.

The death of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in a helicopter crash on Sunday has complicated the situation.

In talks aimed at improving Iran’s cooperation with the IAEA, Tehran told the Vienna-based agency this week that it would not engage with it until Raisi’s successor gets elected on June 28, according to two diplomats.

“A resolution has been prepared,” stated another senior European diplomat. Others confirmed that the E3 had prepared a draft but had not circulated it to Board members.

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“Our analysis is the death of Raisi changes nothing. We have to move forward with this resolution … The Americans are the difficulty, and in our conversations, we continue to do everything to convince them.”

It remains unclear when someone will decide on whether to seek a resolution. The next quarterly IAEA reports on Iran are due early next week. Draft resolutions tend to refer to those reports’ findings.

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