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17 Sep, 2007 15:49

Iran dominates first day of IAEA meeting

Iran's controversial nuclear programme has dominated talks on Day One of a meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna. Some European politicians are calling on the UN to get tough on Tehran while Iran accuses the west of illegal and irra

Half-a-century after the UN's nuclear watchdog was established, the body is facing some of its most difficult challenges yet.

At this year’s conference the body wants nations like India, Pakistan and Israel, not signed up to the Non-proliferation Treaty on limiting the spread of nuclear arms, to do so and then there's the ongoing debate over Iran's controversial nuclear ambition, something that's got one European politician talking of war.

The comments were made by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner during an interview on national TV and Radio.

“We must prepare ourselves for the worst,” he noted.

The interviewer wondered: “What does it mean, prepare ourselves for the worst?”

“That is war, Sir,” Bernard Kouchner responded.

“We prepare ourselves first by trying to set up plans which are the responsibility of the general staff. And that is not for tomorrow. And we prepare by saying 'we will not accept that this bomb is built, suspend the enrichment of uranium and we'll show you that we are serious – and this is not done yet, we are only working on it, nothing is done yet, there has not been a (United Nations) resolution – but we are proposing that more efficient sanctions are eventually put in place,” Mr Kouchner also stated.

Kouchner claims UN penalties on Iran have not been effective. He believes European leaders may consider their own form of economic sanctions. But with overtones of the pre-Iraq war period, the IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei was quick to dismiss such suggestions as “hype”.

“I do not believe at this stage that we are facing clear and present danger that requires that we go beyond diplomacy. I also would like to emphasise that when we need to talk about use of force, we need always to remember that use of force could only be resorted to when it is the only and last resort when every other option has been exhausted, and only be used within the framework of the Security Council,” he said. 

Iran is currently under agreement to answer questions over its nuclear programme. A deal they say they're honouring in the face of “irrational attacks” by the West.

“Unfortunately, I have to say that some Western countries, in spite of our maximum trust and good will, deviated from the technical path of the Agency (IAEA) and picked an illegal, irrational and deceitful approach. They followed their policies by pressures and sanctions through frequent UN resolutions,” believes Gholam Reza Aghazadeh, Iranian Vice President and Head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation.

Next week the UN Security Council will meet again to talk about the possibility of broader penalties, a plan strongly opposed by permanent members Russia and China, who are likely to use their power of veto to stop further measures. 

But Iran's nuclear path remains ambiguous, and new voices are joining the debate over what course of action to take.