30 September 2005

Belarus, Syria and Cuba join IAEA board; anti-US front strengthened


VIENNA (Austria) - Cuba, Syria and Belarus joined the International Atomic Energy Agency's 35-nation board yesterday, bolstering the ranks of countries expected to oppose any decision to refer Iran to the UN Security Council in November.

The three nations were among 10 approved as new board members at the IAEA's 139-nation general conference as part of rotation that results in some board seats changing hands each year.

Although the board does not have permanent members, the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France, Germany, Canada and Japan effectively enjoy that status because of their nuclear or economic standing.

The three new board member nations' differences with Washington almost guarantees they will oppose any effort to haul Iran before the top UN decision-making body at the next board meeting in November - a likely development unless Teheran meets international demands about its nuclear programme.

But they are not expected to actively prevent any Western-initated effort to refer Teheran to the Security Council.

Five of the 10 countries that were replaced by yesterday's rotation also oppose referral. They abstained at Saturday's vote by the board on a resolution clearing the path for such a move.

In all, 12 nations - including China and Russia - abstained. Venezuela cast the only vote against. But even abstentions are considered disapproval at board sessions, which usually make decisions by consensus