World powers deeply concerned about Iran
Vienna - World powers on Thursday overcame differences at the UN atomic watchdog with a resolution of "deep" concern about Iran's nuclear programme but set Tehran no deadline, as the IAEA chief proposed a visit.
A resolution lodged at the International Atomic Energy Agency by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany, the P5+1, "expresses deep and increasing concern" about Iran's activities.
But to assuage Chinese and Russian misgivings, it sets no deadline for Iran to respond, requesting instead agency head Yukiya Amano to report to the IAEA board in March on Tehran's "implementation of this resolution".
Amano said at the start of the meeting that he had written to Iran on November 2 proposing a "high-level" visit to Tehran, saying "clarifying all outstanding issues was in the interests of Iran, and other countries".
He told reporters: "The information we have received in the past three years has given us a clearer picture of Iran's nuclear programme. We now have more pieces of the jigsaw puzzle.
"It is clear that Iran has a case to answer."
The resolution, seen by AFP and expected to be approved by the 35-nation IAEA board of governors on Friday, said it was "essential for Iran and the Agency to intensify their dialogue".
It calls on Tehran "to comply fully and without delay with its obligations under relevant resolutions of the UN Security Council".
It expresses "continuing support for a diplomatic solution, and calls on Iran to engage seriously and without preconditions in talks aimed at restoring international confidence."
Last week, the agency came the closest yet to accusing Iran outright of seeking to develop nuclear weapons, in a report immediately rejected by the Islamic republic as "baseless".
The evidence included a bus-sized steel container visible by satellite for explosives testing and weapons design work, including examining how to arm a Shahab-3 missile, capable of reaching Israel, with a nuclear warhead.
Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said on Wednesday Tehran would send "an analytical letter with logical and rational responses" to the IAEA.
But the report laid bare deep differences within the so-called P5+1 bloc dealing with the Iran question, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council - the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France - and Germany.
Washington, Paris and London jumped on the IAEA report as justification to tighten the screws on Iran, already under four rounds of Security Council sanctions, and additional US and European Union restrictions.
But Beijing, which relies heavily on Iranian oil imports, and Moscow, which also has close commercial ties and built Iran's only nuclear power plant, have been far more cautious.
Israel's ambassador on Thursday expressed disappointment at the resolution, having hoped for a stronger response and even what would be a fifth round of sanctions.
"It could be tougher," Israel's envoy Ehud Azoulay told AFP on the sidelines of the meeting at the IAEA's Vienna headquarters.
"But this is the magic of diplomacy. If you want to get everyone on board you have to sacrifice something. I hope it will lay the ground for future [UN Security Council] resolutions... I really hope so."
But Western diplomats stressed that all major powers had agreed, thus avoiding what would have been a potentially damaging split between permanent members of the UN Security Council.