The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency singled out Iran for the first time Monday as a "special case" because of suspicions it may be trying to make nuclear weapons. A senior Iranian envoy said Israel was the true threat to Mideast peace.
The statement by IAEA chief Yukiya Amano at the start of the agency's 35-nation board meeting reflected international concern about Iran's nuclear agenda, days before the U.N. Security Council is expected to punish Tehran for its refusal to heed demands to curb its activities. It also was in keeping with the generally tougher line taken by Amano on Iran compared to his predecessor, Mohamed ElBaradei, who was occasionally criticized by the U.S. and other Western nations for his perceived reluctance to take Iran to task.
Iran is stonewalling IAEA attempts to follow up on intelligence from the U.S. and other nations that suggests Tehran has hidden nuclear weapons experiments from the world. The planned fourth set of U.N. sanctions reflects concerns about such programs, plus Tehran's refusal to freeze uranium enrichment, which Iran says it wants to develop as a fuel source, but which can also be used to make nuclear warheads.
"Iran is a special case because, among other things, of the existence of issues related to the possible military dimensions to its nuclear program," Amano told the closed meeting in comments made available to reporters. "Iran has not provided the necessary cooperation to permit the agency to confirm that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities."
Iran — and Syria, which is also suspected of hiding weapons-related nuclear activities — have for years taken up prime time at IAEA board meetings. But that attention may be blunted this time by another agenda item — this one critical of Israel, which is universally assumed to have nuclear arms but has never confirmed that status.
The item, listed as "Israeli nuclear capabilities," marks the first time in 19 years that the board has been asked to formally discuss the issue.
Elevating Israel to the same status as Iran and Syria on the board's agenda in some ways detracts from Western attempts to keep the heat on Tehran and Damascus and could split the board even further — developing nations at board meetings are generally supportive of Iran and Syria and hostile to Israel.
The latest pressure is putting the Jewish state in an uncomfortable position. It wants the international community to take stern action to prevent Iran from getting atomic weapons but at the same time brushes off calls to come clean about its own nuclear capabilities.
It also gives critics of Israel a platform to slam it for its attack last week on ships trying break the Gaza blockade that left nine ship members dead.
Picking up on that theme, Iran's chief IAEA delegate, Ali Asghar Soltanieh accused Israel of "crimes against humanity in Gaza."
"This sort of violation of international law plus nuclear capability is very dangerous for the peace and security of the whole world," he told reporters, adding that the "Americans and a few other countries have tried to mislead the public from the threat, which is Israeli nuclear capability.
"This is a real issue, unlike Iran's nuclear issue," he declared.
On Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said she thinks Iran will "pull some stunt" in the next few days in attempts to deflect new U.N. sanctions.
"I think we will see something coming up in the next 24 to 48 hours where Iran says, 'Wait a minute, wait a minute, look at what we're going to do now,'" she said ahead of a Latin America trip.
Iran is just one of the issues Clinton will discuss with Latin American leaders. She is expected to press Brazil, which opposes U.N. penalties against Iran, to switch sides.
Brazil, an elected member of the U.N. Security Council, recently worked with Turkey to broker an agreement with Iran aimed at averting fresh penalties.
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