UNITED NATIONS — The French foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, yesterday called on the director of the U.N. watchdog, Mohamed ElBaradei, to "listen" to Western powers before presenting a much-awaited latest report on Iran. The diplomatic message from one of the toughest Security Council critics of Iran increased pressure on the chief nuclear inspector to toughen up his policies, which are now reportedly being criticized even inside his own agency.
The foreign ministers of the top Security Council powers recently circulated a proposed resolution that includes a new round of mild sanctions against Iran. The deliberation on the proposal in New York, however, was delayed to allow time for Mr. ElBaradei to present his next report to the board of directors of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna at its next meeting, scheduled for the first week of March. Traditionally, the report is delivered to IAEA board members a week or two before they meet.
"Listening to Mohamed ElBaradei will be very interesting," Mr. Kouchner, who is scheduled to meet the IAEA director next week, told U.N.-based reporters. "I hope he will listen to us, too, and it is going to be a sort of dialogue." He later explained that while Mr. ElBaradei is charged with "technical" aspects of the Iranian file, the Egyptian-born nuclear inspector also has to take into account the "political" side, which the leaders of the council are charged with.
Last year, Mr. ElBaradei devised a scheme, heavily criticized in Western capitals, to allow Iran to clear by December 31 all the outstanding suspicions about its past nuclear activities, including unresolved questions about possible weapons activities. After the deadline slipped, Mr. ElBaradei gave Iran an extension.
A report by Agence France-Presse this week cited disagreements between members of the IAEA "technical staff" and the agency's chief. "ElBaradei is pushing for one thing, while the people who went on a technical visit to Iran during January disagree," one unnamed Vienna-based diplomat was quoted as saying. "There's a concern that most of the big issues are going to be declared as resolved when there's still a feeling that they're anything but," said another diplomat.
Even if Mr. ElBaradei resolves such internal disputes and his new report exonerates Iran on past suspicions, the leading members of the Security Council are not expected to ease the international pressure. Far from attempting to dispel suspicions about current nuclear activities, Tehran has openly defied the council, which has called for suspension of Iran's uranium enrichment activities.
The proposed package of new council sanctions includes additional names of Tehran officials to be added to a list of people whose international travel was restricted in past resolutions; some officials' travel would be banned outright, and international business with Iranian banks and companies linked to the enrichment program would be "discouraged," as would be international loan guarantees to several Iranian financial institutions.
"I think we will get it," Mr. Kouchner told The New York Sun yesterday, referring to the proposed council resolution. He also said that at the council, "unity is absolutely key." But diplomats from countries among the 10 elected council members, led by South Africa, said the IAEA report will guide them before indicating their support or rejection of the proposal.