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IAEA Denies Iran's Aid Request
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Diplomats at a 35-nation meeting of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Wednesday in effect denied Iran's request for technical help in building a plutonium-producing reactor in Arak.

After the meeting, two diplomats said a committee of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) would forward a summary of its three days of deliberations to today's board meeting. The summary would note that "no decision was taken" on Teheran's call for aid for its Arak reactor.

That full meeting is then likely to approve the committee note, in effect denying IAEA's aid for now.

The two diplomats from countries on opposing sides of the issue had different interpretations of the decision, reflecting the depth of the dispute. They both demanded anonymity since not authorized to discuss the issue with the media.

An European diplomat said the tentative agreement effectively meant that Iran's request was turned down. Another diplomat, from a developing nation, said it meant that the issue remained on the table and could be revisited at a future meeting. "It certainly is not denied," he pointed out.

While the argument focused on technicalities, this reflected the meeting's charged atmosphere. Technical aid requests are normally approved without discussion but since the first committee meeting on Monday, suspicions on Iran's real projects led to diplomatic tussling on the Arak request, which would produce enough plutonium for two bombs a year, once completed.

Past IAEA resolutions have urged Iran to stop building the Arak reactor. While Iran says it needs the reactor to produce radioactive isotopes for medical purposes, the United States and its allies fear its latent weapons-making capacity.

Still, developing countries, the key recipients of IAEA technical help, are worried that any project being denied aid would set a dangerous precedent for refusing support.

Arak is one of seven projects submitted by Iran. Most, if not all, of the 35 nations had no trouble with approving Iran's request for help with the six others, far less contentious projects, said the diplomats.

The United States was a chief supporter of that approach. "There was a certain pragmatism that we weren't going to win on the other ones," a US official said when asked why Washington did not push for a possible ban on all Iranian aid requests.

Meanwhile, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Wednesday that his country would press ahead with its nuclear program despite the West's pressure, the official IRNA new agency reported.

"We will first have to break the horn of the big head so that justice can be done," Ahmadinejad said, referring to Western pressure over Iran's nuclear dispute. In Farsi, to "break the horn of the big head" is an expression for blunting arrogant behavior.

He said that he believed people who opposed the Arak program would fail to force Iran to abandon it, saying "enemies express scattered words, they pose and humiliate but surely they will not go far."

(China Daily, Xinhua News Agency November 23, 2006)

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