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Nuclear Panel Votes to Report Tehran to U.N.

2006-02-05 00:00nytimes.com

  Nuclear Panel Votes to Report Tehran to U.N.

  Javad Vaidi, center, head of the Iranian negotiating team, in Vienna on Saturday after the atomic agency's vote.

  VIENNA, Feb. 4 — The 35-nation board of the United Nations atomic energy agency voted here on Saturday to report Iran to the Security Council, a move that reflects increasing suspicion around the world that Iran is determined to develop nuclear weapons.

  The resolution, which passed by a vote of 27 to 3, could change the course of diplomacy toward Iran and open the door to international punishment of the country.

  Only Cuba, Syria and Venezuela voted against the European-drafted resolution. Five countries — Algeria, Belarus, Indonesia, Libya and South Africa — abstained.

  After the vote, Iran announced that it would immediately end its voluntary nuclear cooperation with the agency and that it would begin full-scale production of enriched uranium, which can be used to produce electricity or to help build nuclear bombs.

  In a letter ordering the country's nuclear commission to take those actions, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wrote that after Iranian demonstrations of compliance and good will, "the nuclear agency has voted under pressure by few countries and has ignored our extensive cooperation and negated our legal right," the official IRNA news agency reported.

  Mr. Ahmadinejad said that although the country would no longer observe the Additional Protocol that allows intrusive nuclear inspections, "all the country's peaceful activities will remain within the framework of the Nonproliferation Treaty."

  The vote in Vienna was the climax of a two-and-a-half year campaign by the Bush administration to convince the world that suspicions about Iran's nuclear program are so serious that the issue must come before the Security Council for judgment.

  It also signals the failure, at least for now, of the two-and-a-half year strategy of France, Britain and Germany that was based on the premise that Iran could be coaxed into freezing crucial nuclear activities if the political, technological, economic and security rewards from the West were enticing enough.

  In recent months, the three countries have moved much closer to the position of the Bush administration, which has branded Iran part of an "axis of evil" and never held out much hope for the European negotiating track.

  The resolution is a compromise between the Americans, who wanted immediate action, and the Russians and Chinese, who wanted a delay, and it will allow concrete Security Council action against Iran only after a delay of at least a month.

  If that happens, the focus on Iran will begin to shift away from the largely technical atmosphere at the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna to the diplomatic arena of the Security Council in New York, which has responsibility for keeping peace and security in the world.

  "The authorities in Tehran, rather than threatening the world, should listen to the world and take the steps necessary to start regaining its confidence," Gregory Schulte, the American ambassador to the I.A.E.A., told reporters after the vote.

  Peter Jenkins, the British ambassador, told reporters that Iran should take the monthlong grace period to change its behavior and "begin rebuilding international confidence" as the only way to restart negotiations.

  The month coincides with the schedule for the atomic agency's next formal, comprehensive assessment of the country's nuclear program.

  It is conceivable, although highly unlikely, that by then Iran will take the bold steps necessary to convince both the team of nuclear inspectors at the I.A.E.A. as well as the international community that it is a negotiating partner that can be trusted.

  But if Iran carries out its threat to end cooperation, it would severely limit the work of the agency's expert inspectors, who will no longer be allowed to do voluntary spot inspections in Iran and would lose access to important sites, including Iran's research centers and factories that make parts for the centrifuges that enrich uranium.

  The vote in Vienna was promoted as a significant victory for the Bush administration, which spent months briefing members of the agency's board on intelligence that it said strongly suggested but did not prove that Iran's intent was to develop a weapon.

  But suddenly the United States will have to decide what comes next. So far, the Bush administration has signaled only that it favors a go-slow approach based on diplomacy, not military force, and ruling out immediate sanctions or other punitive measures.

  The White House issued a statement on Saturday from President Bush's ranch in Crawford, Tex., describing the agency's vote as "a clear message" to Iran. The statement ended with words directed to the Iranian people, saying, "Iran's true interests lie in working with the international community to enjoy the benefits of peaceful nuclear energy, not in isolating Iran by continuing to develop the capability to build nuclear weapons."

  In Washington, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Iran would have to suspend its enrichment-related uranium activities, cooperate fully on inspections and return to negotiations in order to avert its case being taken up at the Security Council.

  R. Nicholas Burns, under secretary for political affairs, and Robert Joseph, under secretary for arms control and international security, said in a telephone briefing that although Iran had been making small concessions over recent months even as it moved forward on suspicious uranium activities, no such incremental steps, like simply keeping the talks going, would be enough to avoid a Security Council debate.

  They did not specify what actions the United States would seek at the Security Council, but in the past, administration officials have said that no move will be made to impose heavy economic penalties on Iran, like an oil embargo. Instead, the United States would likely seek punitive diplomatic or political steps, like suspending travel or freezing assets for top Iranian officials and business leaders in nuclear-related industries.

  Some administration officials have publicly taken more hawkish public line in recent days, repeating that President Bush was keeping open all of his options — the code words for reserving the right to take military action if diplomacy fails as part of the campaign to get the Iranian government to back down.

  Reporting a country to the Security Council is deeply humiliating and singles out a country as an unreliable actor on the global stage. Until recently, a pillar of Iran's foreign policy had been to avoid being judged in the world organization and to seek alignments with the Europeans, Russia and China against the United States and Israel.

  But that changed last August, after Iran resumed converting uranium yellowcake into a gas that can be further purified for use in nuclear reactors as well as weapons. It was the first breach of its voluntary agreement with the Europeans and essentially broke off negotiations.

  That was followed by the reopening last month of part of its nuclear enrichment plant at Natanz for what Iran called "research purposes." Even though Iran has yet to operate any of the machinery or process any uranium material there, its reopening was the second and much more serious violation of the agreement with the Europeans.

  The resolution at the I.A.E.A. came at the end of a three-day emergency session of the agency board that was prompted by Iran's refusal to heed calls to close down the uranium enrichment facility again.

  It calls for the immediate suspension of all activities related to the enrichment of uranium. It also recalls Iran's "many failures and breaches of its obligations" under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and "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."

  Iran insists that its nuclear program is solely for peaceful purposes like generating electricity. But it kept its program hidden for 18 years from the I.A.E.A., fueling suspicions that it may have secret plans to become a nuclear weapons power.

  The resolution was passed after the United States reversed itself and agreed late Friday to include a clause expressing support for a nuclear-free Middle East that indirectly criticized Israel's secret nuclear weapons status.

  Even the United States' closest European allies favored the clause, which had been demanded by Egypt and also had the support of Russia and China. Isolated, the United States backed down.

  The final resolution included a clause stating that "a solution to the Iranian issue would contribute to global nonproliferation efforts and to realizing the objective of a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction, including their means of delivery."

  The vote on Saturday was particularly important because it had the backing of Russia and China, which had abstained in the last resolution on Iran last September.

  Both Russia and China made clear in separate statements that although they supported the resolution, they did not agree with the two American arguments for reporting Iran to the world body: that Iran had to be reported both because of "noncompliance" with its treaty obligations and in the interest of peace and security.

  Grigory Berdennikov, the Russian ambassador to the atomic agency, said in a statement, "This problem will be solved within the framework of the I.A.E.A. without additional interference."

  In a veiled message to the United States, the Europeans and Iran, Wu Hailongon, the Chinese ambassador to the I.A.E.A., called on "all relevant parties to exercise restraint and patience" and "refrain from taking any action that might further complicate or deteriorate the situation."

  Among others backing the resolution was India, which had been pressured by the United States to vote yes if it expected to finalize a sweeping deal on nuclear energy cooperation with the United States, but will face intense domestic political opposition because of the decision.

  The countries that voted for the resolution were Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Belgium, Britain, Canada, China, Colombia, Ecuador, Egypt, France, Germany, Ghana, Greece, India, Japan, Norway, Portugal, Russia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Sweden, the United States and Yemen.

  In recent years, the agency's board has reported Iraq, North Korea, Libya and Romania to the Security Council for possible censure because of their nuclear programs. But such action does not necessarily translate into action.

  North Korea, which secretly built nuclear weapons and withdrew from the Nonproliferation Treaty three years ago, has been reported twice. Although the Security Council has denounced North Korea, it has never voted to punish it.

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