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U.N. agency cuts nuclear technical aid to Iran

PARIS – The United Nations’ atomic monitoring agency on Thursday curtailed nearly two dozen nuclear technical aid programs to Iran as part of an international effort to pressure the country to halt its uranium enrichment program.

Members of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) meeting in Vienna agreed to suspend or reduce 22 of the 55 technical aid projects it funds for improving Iran’s civilian use of nuclear technology.

The board’s action paralleled U.N. sanctions imposed earlier on Iran over concerns expressed by the United States, European countries and others that the Islamic republic’s uranium enrichment program is a prelude to weapons development. The government in Tehran denies that is the case, and IAEA officials say they have been unable to prove it.

Ali Asghar Soltanieh, the Iranian ambassador to the IAEA, criticized the board’s decision, telling reporters, “None of these projects are in fact related to the enrichment program, which will continue as planned.”

Soltanieh said that one of the aid projects suspended by the IAEA on Thursday involves the use of radiation to strengthen industrial cables and prevent accidents. “Those who prepared this resolution have ill political motivation, or they don’t know what nuclear technology means at all,” he said.

The recommendation by agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei was accepted by consensus, with no opposition from Russia, China or other nations – most of which have strong economic ties to Iran – that have refused to agree to tougher sanctions pushed by the United States and its allies.

“No one declared dissatisfaction with the choices, which were made in an extremely professional manner,” said Ramzy Ezzeidin Ramzy, Egypt’s chief IAEA representative.

The board exempted programs with medical, agricultural or humanitarian purposes.

North Korea and Iraq under Saddam Hussein are the only two countries the IAEA had previously punished by cutting or reducing technical aid over concerns about nuclear weapons production.

Last December, the U.N. Security Council voted for minor sanctions on Iran, including freezing the assets of 10 officials and 12 institutions linked to nuclear programs. The council is now considering tougher action in the face of Iran’s continued defiance of international demands for a halt to its uranium enrichment program, though U.N. members remain divided over whether to impose more sanctions or rely on diplomatic efforts to persuade Tehran to back down.