Reuters: Iran’s deal with United Nations inspectors to resolve questions about its nuclear programme will fall short of dispelling suspicions about clandestine efforts to build nuclear weapons, diplomats say. By Mark Heinrich
VIENNA (Reuters) – Iran’s deal with United Nations inspectors to resolve questions about its nuclear programme will fall short of dispelling suspicions about clandestine efforts to build nuclear weapons, diplomats say.
They say the working document is flawed for apparently ruling out future inquiries by inspectors and making no mention of wider-ranging checks the U.N. nuclear watchdog itself has said are needed to verify Tehran has no hidden bomb agenda.
It also does not define what Iran must do to resolve open questions and ignores a U.N. demand for Tehran to suspend enriching uranium to regain trust in its nuclear intentions.
Diplomats close to the International Atomic Energy Agency touted the “understandings” with Iran as a milestone for laying out a timetable for transparency by December after four years of stalling by Tehran that prompted U.N. sanctions.
“It’s a good work plan with phases and dates to resolve outstanding issues, as requested by the (IAEA’s 35-nation) board of governors. Board members should welcome this development,” a senior agency official told Reuters.
The Aug. 21 pact, whose text was released on Monday, said Tehran had resolved the first issue relating to the nature of its nuclear work — secret, small-scale experiments with plutonium, the commonest ingredient in nuclear bombs.
Details of what Iran did to defuse concerns about the tests may emerge in a new IAEA report due on Wednesday, two weeks before a meeting of the agency’s 35-nation governing board.
The report will shed light on Iran’s level of cooperation and could influence pending talks among six world powers on possible harsher sanctions. The United States favours tougher measures but Russia is opposed as long as Tehran’s rapprochement with the IAEA proceeds.
Western diplomats, asking for anonymity due to political sensitivities, criticised the plan’s failure to get Iran to reinstate the IAEA’s Additional Protocol, which permits broader, short-notice inspections of sites not declared to be nuclear.
Big powers locked in a standoff with Iran over its refusal to heed U.N. resolutions demanding it suspend nuclear activity say there is no way to rule out the risk Tehran might harbour a covert military nuclear facility without the Protocol in place.
IAEA Director Mohamed ElBaradei has said the same, and knowledge about Iranian activities had deteriorated as a result.
A clause in the working document saying that, once Iran had cleared up issues listed, there would be “no more remaining issues and ambiguities” raised diplomatic eyebrows.
“There is surprise that the IAEA seems to have forgone the right to ask more questions,” said a diplomat from one of the EU states in the sextet of powers, Germany, France and Britain.
Iran has insisted that it seeks only an alternative source of electricity, not explosives, from enriched uranium.
“Iran has wised up, realising that stiffing the IAEA helped lead to unanimous U.N. sanctions resolutions. The work plan is designed to show cooperation in order to forestall more sanctions,” said Mark Fitzpatrick, chief non-proliferation analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
“But there is less here than meets the eye. (There are) serious omissions. Iran is holding on to the more political issues for leverage in any future negotiations with the Europeans and Security Council permanent members,” he said.
Critics also faulted the plan’s requirement that issues be addressed sequentially and require closure of each before going on to the next. This could drag out the process, especially if Iran blamed more sanctions action for foot-dragging, they said.
Western diplomats said the plan did not stipulate IAEA access to certain Iranian officials, scientists and documents crucial for resolution of thornier issues, including:
* particles of highly enriched — or weapons-grade — uranium found on technical university equipment
* research on an advanced centrifuge able to refine uranium 2-3 times faster than the old, unreliable model Iran uses now
* a black-market, bomb-making manual in Iran’s possession
* intelligence about administrative links between uranium processing, high explosives tests and a missile warhead design.
The plan said the IAEA aimed to resolve the centrifuge matter by November, but set no deadlines for the others.
“Iran’s ability to provide a complete solution to open issues is limited due to the fear of incriminating themselves and exposing secret components,” said another Western diplomat.
Wednesday’s IAEA report will also show how far Iran’s enrichment work has come. Progress towards making atomic fuel in usable “industrial” amounts slowed this summer, possibly due to technical problems, diplomats say. Iran has denied any slowdown.