Last Updated: Sun Oct 17, 2010 04:57 am (KSA) 01:57 am (GMT)

Iran ends seat bid on UN nuclear board

Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, Yukiya Amano of Japan (File)
Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, Yukiya Amano of Japan (File)

Iran on Thursday withdrew a bid for a seat on the U.N. nuclear watchdog's policy-setting board after failing to win consensus backing from a regional group of Middle East and South Asian countries.

Iran is under an eight-year U.N. investigation over its nuclear program, which the West suspects is aimed at developing bombs and the Islamic Republic says is for peaceful power generation purposes only.

An Arab diplomat said Iran, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates had vied for the two seats allocated for the group on the International Atomic Energy Agency's Board of Governors, which meets periodically at IAEA headquarters in Vienna.

Shortly before a meeting to decide the issue, Iran announced it would drop its candidacy for the sake of "the solidarity of the group," the Arab envoy said, without elaborating. Iranian diplomats were not available for comment.

Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, both U.S. allies, were later elected to the 35-nation board on Thursday.

An Iranian attempt to join the board would have encountered Western opposition if it had come to a vote at the annual assembly of 151 IAEA member states, which is holding a week-long meeting in Vienna.

The Board of Governors has the power to refer countries to the U.N. Security Council if they are believed to be flouting IAEA regulations.

It did this with Iran in 2006 over its failure to declare sensitive uranium enrichment-related activity and cooperate fully with IAEA inspectors.

Under IAEA rules, if any of its six regional groups fails to agree on consensus candidates for the board, the whole assembly would settle the issue with a ballot.

"I believe (Iran) decided they would rather withdraw the bid than risk losing a vote in the assembly," said a Western diplomat.

Iran says Russia should show an independent stance

The Iranian defense minister criticized Russia Thursday for banning all sales of S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems to Iran.

Gen. Ahmad Vahidi's comments came a day after Russian President Dmitry Medvedev issued a decree on the ban, which also prohibited exports of tanks, aircraft and sea vessels to Iran.

Vahidi said Russia was at risk of humiliating itself for caving to international pressure by banning the sales of the sophisticated systems that could boost Iran's ability to defend itself against airstrikes.

"We think Russia should show it has an independent stance in choosing its relations with other countries as well as on international issues," he said in an interview with Iranian state TV.

Tehran is in a tense standoff with the U.S. and other nations over its disputed nuclear program. Russia also has recently shown increasing frustration over Iran's policies.

Moscow signed a 2007 contract to sell the systems. Israel and the United States have objected to the deal, and no such missiles have been delivered yet.

Russia has said United Nations sanctions would prevent it from delivering the S-300s to Iran.

The S-300 is capable of shooting down aircraft and missiles at ranges of over 90 miles (144 kilometers) and at altitudes of about 90,000 feet (27,432 meters).

Vahidi insisted the Russians were obliged to implement the 2007 contract.

"They have not done it so far," he said.

He also played down the importance of the deal, saying it was "not vital" because Iran will build a similar system in the future.

"God willing we will have production of long range anti-aircraft missiles on our agenda."

In June, Russia joined other members of the U.N Security Council in imposing a fourth set of sanctions on Iran after Tehran refused to halt its uranium enrichment activities.

The U.S. and its allies accuse Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons. Iran denies the charge, saying its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes like power generation.

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