'All our indicators are flashing red'

US said to oppose IAEA resolution condemning Iran’s ‘unprecedented’ nuclear breaches

European diplomat says Washington at odds with London, Paris and Berlin on confronting Tehran at UN watchdog, warns that Islamic Republic has ‘no real goodwill’ to cooperate

Illustrative: Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (front) visits an exhibition of the country's nuclear industry achievements in Tehran, June 11, 2023, accompanied by the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran Mohammad Eslami (L). (Khamenei.ir/AFP)
Illustrative: Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (front) visits an exhibition of the country's nuclear industry achievements in Tehran, June 11, 2023, accompanied by the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran Mohammad Eslami (L). (Khamenei.ir/AFP)

The United States and its three top European allies are divided over whether to confront Iran at the UN nuclear watchdog by seeking a resolution against it and thereby risk further escalation, with the Europeans in favor, diplomats say.

It is 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 been narrowed to two, Iran still has not explained the traces, and the number of other problems in Iran has risen including Tehran barring many of the IAEA’s top uranium-enrichment experts on the inspection team.

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.”

This handout picture provided by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran shows director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Rafael Grossi attending a meeting with the chief of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran. Mohammad Eslami, in Isfahan on May 7, 2024. (Photo by Atomic Energy Organization of Iran / AFP)

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

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

The United States, however, 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 US officials make is to avoid giving Iran a pretext to respond by escalating its nuclear activities, as it has done in the past.

File: An Iranian technician works at the Isfahan Uranium Conversion Facilities, February 3, 2007. (AFP PHOTO/ BEHROUZ MEHRI)

Tensions in the Middle East are running particularly high amid the ongoing war in Gaza sparked by Hamas’s October 7 terror onslaught, and as other Iranian armed proxies in the region target Israel along with US and Western targets. Last month, Iran launched a massive drone and missile attack in its first ever direct assault on Israel, which in turn was reported to strike a radar system near a secretive nuclear strike.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi’s death 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 it would not engage with it until Raisi’s successor is elected on June 28, two diplomats said.

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

“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 was unclear when a decision on whether to seek a resolution would be reached. 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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