The United Nations atomic watchdog agency has called on Iran to suspend all activities related to uranium enrichment, a potential step to producing nuclear weapons, and will decide in November whether further steps are required regarding the country's obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
In a resolution adopted over the weekend by its Board of Governors meeting in Vienna, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said it was making steady progress towards understanding Iran's nuclear programmes. But it noted "with serious concern" that Iran has not "heeded repeated calls from the Board to suspend, as a confidence building measure, all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities."
It called on the country, as a further confidence-building measure, to voluntarily "reconsider its decision to start construction of a research reactor moderated by heavy water" - another possible ingredient in the production process of nuclear weapons.
In a message to the IAEA's 48th General Conference which opened in Vienna today, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged Iran "to further cooperate with the Agency in fully resolving outstanding issues regarding its nuclear programme."
The IAEA has already strongly deplored Iranian breaches of the NPT, including an almost two decade-long failure to disclose past activities. But Agency Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei has repeatedly said it has no proof Iran's activities are linked to a nuclear weapons programme, and Tehran has consistently denied any such intention.
The resolution did not say what further steps the Board might consider in November, but it could report any NPT breaches to the UN Security Council, which could then impose sanctions.
The resolution stressed "the need for effective safeguards to prevent nuclear material from being used for prohibited purposes" and underlined "the vital importance of effective safeguards for facilitating cooperation in the field of nuclear energy."
In his message to the 48th General Conference, delivered by Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs Nobuyasu Abe, Mr. Annan also underscored vital importance of preventing terrorists from acquiring and using nuclear devices or radioactive materials.
"Keeping nuclear weapons out of such dangerous hands is a sine qua non of global security," he declared. "I therefore urge all Governments to work closely with the IAEA to take stronger measures to ensure the physical protection, safety and security of nuclear and radioactive materials, as well as relevant equipment and technology."
He also called for the early resumption of IAEA safeguard activities in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), which has not allowed verification there for nearly two years. Mr. ElBaradei last week said the DPRK "continues to pose a serious challenge" to non-proliferation, and he could not give assurances about the non-diversion of nuclear material there.
Mr. Annan called the potential for escalation in the Middle East "a source of great concern," and he welcomed recent IAEA efforts to achieve full-scope safeguards to further the goal of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the region.
He hailed the overall IAEA role in "helping to meet many of the biggest challenges facing the world today" through the use of nuclear techniques for sustainable development. These range from combating climate change to preserving the environment and from feeding and protecting the health of the world's growing population to supplying the water and energy needed for sustainable economic growth.