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U.N. nuke watchdog group censures Iran

Iran’s ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Ali Ashgar Soltanieh, briefs the media during the IAEA’s 35-nation board meeting at Vienna’s International Center on Friday.

AP photo

VIENNA — In a blow to Iran, the board of the U.N. nuclear agency on Friday overwhelmingly backed a demand from the U.S., Russia, China and three other powers that Tehran immediately stop building its newly revealed nuclear facility and freeze uranium enrichment.

Iranian officials shrugged off approval of the resolution by 25 members of the 35-nation board of the International Atomic Energy Agency. But the U.S. and its allies hinted of new U.N. sanctions if Tehran remains defiant.

The West said some time remained for Tehran to come around and accept a specific offer that would delay its ability to make a nuclear weapon as well as engage in broader talks with the ultimate goal of persuading it to mothball its enrichment program.

But that window of opportunity would not stay open indefinitely, officials said.

“The next stage will have to be sanctions if Iran doesn’t respond to what is a very clear vote from the world community,” British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said the resolution’s passage shows that “the international community still wants dialogue with Iran, but time is pressing.”

“Our hand is still held out,” he added. “I hope Iran will take it. Iran must know: our patience is not infinite.”

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs avoided mentioning sanctions — but indicated harsher measures were possible unless Iran compromised.

“Our patience and that of the international community is limited, and time is running out,” he said in a statement. “If Iran refuses to meet its obligations, then it will be responsible for its own growing isolation and the consequences.”

Iran argues that its program is aimed at creating a peaceful nuclear energy network. The U.S. and other nations believe Iran’s nuclear program has the goal of creating atomic weapons.

The IAEA resolution criticized Iran for defying a U.N. Security Council ban on uranium enrichment — the source of both nuclear fuel and the fissile core of warheads.

It also censured Iran for secretly building a uranium enrichment facility and demanded that it immediately suspend further construction. It noted that IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei cannot confirm that Tehran’s nuclear program is exclusively geared toward peaceful uses, and expressed “serious concern” that Iran’s stonewalling of an IAEA probe means “the possibility of military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear program” cannot be excluded.

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