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U.N. nuclear watchdog reports Iran to Security Council

VIENNA, Austria—Sending a message of global concern over Iran's nuclear ambitions, the United Nations' atomic energy watchdog voted here Saturday to report Iran to the U.N. Security Council.

The International Atomic Energy Agency's governing board voted 27 to 3 in favor of a European-sponsored resolution to haul Iran before the Security Council, which has the authority to impose political and economic sanctions if the government in Tehran doesn't stop a uranium enrichment program that many nations believe is a prelude to weapons development.

Iranian officials deemed the landmark vote "hasty and immature," and pledged to halt cooperation with the agency, to block spot checks and to expand its enrichment program.

"This resolution is politically motivated since it is not based on any legal or technical grounds," Javad Vaeidi, an Iranian delegate, told reporters in Vienna. "The course of diplomacy was stopped by certain states and it is not clear that, following this resolution, how and where it could be resumed."

In a statement Saturday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad lambasted the world's nuclear powers with imposing "a kind of scientific apartheid and nuclear monopoly" that is rooted in a perspective formed in the "Middle Ages."

The United States, a longtime proponent of punishing Iran for a record of concealing its nuclear activities, was joined by more than two dozen other countries in approving the resolution at the end of a three-day emergency session in Vienna. Only Syria, Cuba and Venezuela voted against the measure. Five countries—South Africa, Libya, Algeria, Indonesia and Belarus—abstained.

From his ranch in Crawford, Texas, President Bush said the vote sends a clear message that "the world will not permit the Iranian regime to gain nuclear weapons." Bush also told the Iranian people that the decision was not aimed at denying "the benefits of peaceful nuclear energy" but was the result of "the regime's continued defiance" that "isolates Iran from the rest of the world and undermines the Iranian people's aspirations for a better life."

Separately, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she hoped Iran would suspend its efforts to enrich and reprocess nuclear materials. "We hope the Iranian regime will heed this clear message. The world will not stand by if Iran continues on the path to a nuclear weapons capability."

Gregory L Schulte, U.S. ambassador at the IAEA talks in Vienna, said the resolution calls for Iran to freeze uranium enrichment for which there is "no civil requirement," reconsider the construction of a nuclear reactor able to produce weapons-grade plutonium and make its program transparent by giving the IAEA access to documents, sites and officials involved in nuclear activities.

"The authorities in Tehran, rather than threatening the world, should listen to the world, and take the steps necessary to start regaining its confidence," Schulte said. "The leadership in Iran has an important choice ... choosing the path of cooperation rather than confrontation would best serve the people of Iran, who deserve nuclear energy and international respect, and not a future of increasing isolation."

In September, the IAEA found Iran in noncompliance with its obligations to disclose the full extent of its nuclear program, which Iran reportedly had hidden for 18 years.

At the time, the agency held off on sending the findings to the Security Council in hopes that Iran would stop nuclear fuel work and fully cooperate with investigators. Instead, Iran on Jan. 10 removed U.N. seals from its chief enrichment site in Natanz and resumed small-scale enrichment work after a 2 {-year suspension.

The move, which accompanied increasingly provocative statements by Iran's hard-line President Ahmadinejad, nudged even the most reluctant nations toward supporting the resolution. The text refers to "the absence of confidence that Iran's nuclear program is exclusively for peaceful purposes resulting from the history of concealment of Iran's nuclear activities."

Along with the resolution, all the agency's Iran-related findings, including the noncompliance report, will go before the Security Council.

"The Iranian regime is today the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism," U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said Saturday at a defense conference in Germany. "The world does not want, and must work together to prevent, a nuclear Iran."

Mohamed El Baradei, the IAEA director, has said the Security Council won't act on the resolution until after he completes a report in March. The United States and its allies have all said it's too early to talk about possible sanctions against Iran, expressing hope that the Islamic regime takes the next month to soften its stance or adopt a compromise such as an offer to enrich its uranium on Russian soil.

Sixteen nations belong to the IAEA's Non-Aligned Movement, which is committed to the right of peaceful nuclear research for all countries, without discrimination. Though many non-aligned states voted for the resolution rather than risk isolation from other members of the agency, several delegates explained the vote as a continuation of diplomatic efforts—not as a punishment.

However, nations that opposed the resolution described Saturday's vote as an unnecessary provocation that will only lead to confrontation.

"Despite the fact that they say they will not raise the issue of sanctions now, we are moving in that direction," said Safwan Ghanem, Syria's chief nuclear negotiator.

The IAEA meeting began Thursday but quickly grew protracted as Western diplomats worked to build the broadest possible consensus among the agency's 35 governors in order to frame the nuclear showdown as Iran versus the rest of the world.

With even Iran's traditional allies of China and Russia on board, the resolution appeared certain to pass. But negotiations hit a sticking point Friday with Egypt's insistence on wording about a nuclear-free Middle East—alluding not only to Iran, but also to Israel.

With European and Arab diplomats in support of the clause, U.S. officials compromised just hours before the vote with a reference to "the objective of a Middle East free of weapons of mass destructions, including their means of delivery." American negotiators sidestepped questions from journalists on how the resolution could apply to Israel, which has not signed the Nonproliferation Treaty.

Throughout the Middle East and Islamic world, Muslims point to Israel's nuclear program as justification of their right to similar research and development activity.

In Tehran, some moderate legislators and intellectuals urged diplomacy over a high-stakes nuclear impasse. But from cab drivers to students to university professors, many Iranians echoed their government's rejection of the resolution and said the possibility of sanctions doesn't scare them.

"We should defend our right in any case, with no care about what might happen next, even if (the Americans) want to begin a war against us," said Ali Rezaei, a supermarket worker.

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(Allam reported from Vienna. Knight Ridder Newspapers special correspondent Jamshid Heidari in Tehran and national correspondent William Douglas in Washington also contributed to this report.)

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The following are documents released by the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog agency related to its vote on Iran.

http://www.iaea.org/Publications/Documents/Board/2006/gov2006-14.pdf

http://www.iaea.org/Publications/Documents/Infcircs/2006/infcirc666.pdf

http://www.iaea.org/NewsCenter/Statements/DDGs/2006/heinonen31012006.pdf

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(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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