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Row over Iran nuclear program escalates as ally China warns of dire consequence

A US-backed resolution calling on Iran to 'fully cooperate' with IAEA requests has triggered a furious backlash from Iranian allies, including China.

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Vienna: Diplomacy over Iran’s atomic program erupted into a new level of rancor, with China warning that even a toned-down rebuke of Tehran over its alleged lack of cooperation with inspectors could unravel global efforts to contain the spread of nuclear weapons.

A U.S.-backed resolution drafted by three European powers at the International Atomic Energy Agency calls on Iran to “fully cooperate” with IAEA requests to visit two sites that may have hosted low-level atomic work two decades ago. But it has triggered a furious backlash from Iranian allies, with China submitting a 5-page statement to the Vienna-based IAEA on Thursday arguing the reprimand could demolish “the entire global non-proliferation regime.”

“The root causes of this situation lie in the unilateral and bullying practices of the U.S.,” Beijing envoy Wang Qun said. Should the resolution pass, he said, it could also sound the death knell for the landmark 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers. The Trump administration exited the deal in 2018 as it ramped up its economic offensive against the Islamic Republic, but other signatories vowed to salvage it.

The row amplifies growing divisions between east and west, with Beijing and Washington engaged in tit-for-tat sniping at each other’s policies and spheres of influence. The U.S. punished Chinese officials this week for imprisoning members of its minority Muslim population. At the same time, officials in China are warming to the idea of another term for President Donald Trump because of the damage his administration has done to traditional U.S. alliances.

“It is time now for us to speak formally and with one voice,” U.S. IAEA ambassador Jackie Walcott said in a statement on Thursday. “The resolution tabled by France, Germany and the U.K. is a balanced and fair reaction to Iran’s alarming actions. While we firmly believe the text could be strengthened, the U.S. accepts and fully supports the resolution and urges all other board members to do the same.”

The prospect of a unified position on Iran faded as this week’s quarterly 35-nation IAEA meeting unfolded. Russia’s envoy, Mikhail Ulyanov, lined up with China in questioning the need for a resolution.

Because Covid-19 social distancing measures remain in place, the IAEA meeting has been conducted remotely by video. Should a vote on the resolution be required, it will likely need to take place in person and unfold on Friday.

The IAEA reported last month that while its monitors are still conducting record inspections of Iran’s declared nuclear facilities as set out in the 2015 accord, they want to visit locations where small-scale research with nuclear material may have taken place in the early 2000s. The activity was first revealed in a cache of documents retrieved by Israel. IAEA monitors said they independently corroborated sufficient information to warrant inspecting additional sites.

The situation around the Iran deal “is gloomier than ever,” Iran’s representative to the IAEA, Kazem Gharib Abadi, said in a statement, pointing out the agency conducted 33 snap inspections last year. The ability to make short-notice visits was one of the key powers negotiated by world powers under the beleaguered pact.- Bloomberg

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