New York Times: A report released Thursday showing a slow but steady expansion of Irans nuclear technology has exposed a new divide between United Nations arms inspectors and the United States and its allies over how to contain Tehrans atomic program. The New York Times
By ELAINE SCIOLINO and WILLIAM J. BROAD
Published: August 31, 2007
VIENNA, Aug. 30 A report released Thursday showing a slow but steady expansion of Irans nuclear technology has exposed a new divide between United Nations arms inspectors and the United States and its allies over how to contain Tehrans atomic program.
The International Atomic Energy Agency said in its report that Iran was being unusually cooperative and had reached an agreement with the agency to answer questions about an array of suspicious past nuclear activities that have led many nations to suspect it harbors a secret effort to make nuclear arms. The agency added that while Tehrans uranium enrichment effort is growing, the output is far less than experts had expected.
This is the first time Iran is ready to discuss all the outstanding issues which triggered the crisis in confidence, Mohamed ElBaradei, the I.A.E.A. director general, said in an interview. Its a significant step.
But the Bush administration and its allies, which have won sanctions in the United Nations Security Council in an effort to stop Irans uranium enrichment, saw the latest report as more evidence of defiance, not cooperation.
There is no partial credit here, a State Department spokesman, Tom Casey, said Thursday. Iran has refused to comply with its international obligations, and as a result of that the international community is going to continue to ratchet up the pressure.
In Paris, Pascale Andreani, the French Foreign Ministry spokesman, said that as long as Iran did not give a clear decision about suspending its enrichment activities, France would work with others to investigate the feasibility of further sanctions.
In the interview, Dr. ElBaradei suggested that he would welcome a delay in the American-led strategy to impose new sanctions, saying, Im clear at this stage you need to give Iran a chance to prove its stated goodwill. Sanctions alone, I know for sure, are not going to lead to a durable solution.
The agreement, announced Monday, laid out a timetable of cooperation with the goal of wrapping up by December nuclear issues that have been under investigation for four years. By then, Dr. ElBaradei said, the agency will know whether Iran was serious or was trying to take us for a ride.
The report released Thursday, a quarterly update of Irans nuclear activity, said the country was operating nearly 2,000 centrifuges, the machines that enrich uranium, at its vast underground plant at Natanz, an increase of several hundred from three months ago. More than 650 additional centrifuges are being tested or are under construction, the agency said.
That number is far short of Irans projection that by now it would have 3,000 centrifuges up and running. The I.A.E.A. also reported that uranium being processed by the working centrifuges at Natanz was well below the expected quantity for a facility of this design. In addition, the agency said that uranium was enriched to a lower level than the Iranians had claimed.
These results have raised questions among private experts and officials at the atomic agency about whether Iran is facing technical difficulties or has made a political decision to curtail its nuclear operations. Low enriched uranium can fuel power reactors, and highly enriched uranium can fuel a bomb.
David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, a private group in Washington that tracks nuclear proliferation, said his own calculations, based on the reports data, suggested that Iran was operating its centrifuges at as little as 10 percent of their potential. Thats very low and we dont know why, he said.
Dr. ElBaradei said he believed that the Iranian leadership had decided to operate Natanz at less than full capacity. They could have expanded much faster, he said. Some say its for technical reasons. My gut feeling is that its primarily for political reasons.
He said he did not in any way give a blessing to Irans decision to proceed with uranium enrichment, a program that Security Council resolutions demand must be frozen. But he has taken what he has called a realistic view that the world has to accept that Iran will never halt the program and that the goal now must be to prevent it from expanding to industrial-level production.
Its difficult technology, but its not rocket science, he said. Through a process of trial and error, you will have the knowledge.
Some in the Bush administration have contended that Dr. ElBaradei, whose agency is part of the United Nations, is operating outside his mandate by independently striking the deal with Tehran. But he defended his move, saying: My responsibility is to look at the big picture. If I see a situation deteriorating and it could lead to a war, I have to raise the alarm or give my advice.
The evolving divide places Dr. ElBaradei in conflict with President Bush, and not for the first time. The White House bristled in 2003 when Dr. ElBaradei reported that there was no evidence to support claims that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program. Later the administration tried to block Dr. ElBaradeis nomination for a second term at the agency just months before he won the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize. But now the administration needs Dr. ElBaradei, an Egyptian diplomat, more than ever, because his agencys findings have formed the core of its case against Iran.
The conflict between the atomic agency and the United States and its allies centers on whether Iran should be afforded a modicum of trust after years of deception about its nuclear efforts.
In its report, the I.A.E.A. said that Iran had recently provided fresh information that resolved a series of questions about a part of its nuclear program that deals with plutonium, which can also be used as bomb fuel. After Iran resisted agency entreaties for two years, agency officials said, it suddenly provided access to a key expert, documentation and other data that allowed them to declare the plutonium questions answered to their satisfaction.
Dr. ElBaradei defended his plan to get more answers from Iran, saying, There are clear deadlines, so its not, as some people are saying, an open-ended invitation to dallying with the agency or a ruse to prolong negotiations and avoid sanctions.
Tehran, in turn, praised the agency, saying it had vindicated Iran. This report ended all the baseless U.S. accusations against Iran, Mohammad Saeedi, deputy head of Irans Atomic Energy Organization, was quoted as saying by the state-run IRNA news agency. Once again the agency confirmed the validity of Irans stances.
The move by Mr. ElBaradei reflects a shift in focus by the agency to treat Iran with less suspicion, an approach that has been criticized by American, French and British officials.
Iran, meanwhile, appears to have embarked on a new strategy to give the impression of full cooperation on resolving past issues and to shift the focus away from its current enrichment activities, thereby undermining a major argument for imposing new sanctions.
Under the new plan, the I.A.E.A. hopes to answer a range of questions.
One involves what Western intelligence officials say is a secretive Iranian entity called the Green Salt Project, which worked on uranium processing, high explosives and a missile warhead design. They suspect links between Green Salt and Irans ostensibly peaceful nuclear program. If that evidence were substantiated, it would undercut Irans assertions that its programs sole aim is producing electrical power.
Iran, while dismissing as baseless the assertions that such a program exists, has agreed to examine documents that the United States uncovered on a stolen laptop which it says pertain to Green Salt. But in a potential pitfall, Iran wants to take possession of the documents, something the United States has not agreed to.
Dr. ElBaradei, a lawyer by training, said that in fairness, we have to give them access to the documents.
Another sensitive issue that the agency wants to explore with Tehran is how it acquired the skill to build two types of centrifuges that can enrich uranium.
Iran has also agreed to explain a document it received from the network of Abdul Qadeer Khan, the Pakistani nuclear engineer, showing how to cast uranium into hemispheres to form the core of an atom bomb.
Dr. ElBaradei said he told the Iranians that this was a critical moment for candor. I made it very clear to them, if you are not serious, it will backfire, he said. It will backfire in a big way because nobody then will be able to defend or to come to your support.
Elaine Sciolino reported from Vienna, and William J. Broad from New York. David E. Sanger contributed reporting from Washington.