Iran Nuclear NewsReport raises new doubts on Iran nuclear program

Report raises new doubts on Iran nuclear program


New York Times: The International Atomic Energy Agency said in a report on Thursday that Iran had made new but incomplete disclosures about its past nuclear activities, missing a critical deadline under an agreement with the agency and virtually assuring a new push by the United States to impose stricter international sanctions. The New York Times

Published: November 16, 2007

VIENNA, Nov. 15 — The International Atomic Energy Agency said in a report on Thursday that Iran had made new but incomplete disclosures about its past nuclear activities, missing a critical deadline under an agreement with the agency and virtually assuring a new push by the United States to impose stricter international sanctions.

In the report, the agency confirmed for the first time that Iran had reached the major milestone of 3,000 operating centrifuges, a tenfold increase from just a year ago. In theory, that means that it could produce enough uranium to make a nuclear weapon within a year to 18 months.

But the agency said that the centrifuges — fast-spinning machines used to enrich uranium — were operating well below their capacity, and that so far it had not discovered any evidence that Iran was enriching to a level that would produce bomb-grade fuel.

The report made clear that even while providing some answers, Iran has continued to shield many aspects of its nuclear program. Iran’s “cooperation has been reactive rather than proactive,” the report said, adding that because of restrictions Iran has placed on inspectors the agency’s understanding of the full scope of Iran’s nuclear program is “diminishing.”

The Bush administration, which suspects Iran of having a nuclear weapons program, seized on the report’s findings as evidence of Tehran’s determination to forge ahead with its nuclear program in defiance of the United Nations Security Council.

“We think that today’s report does not in any way, shape or form answer the questions that the U.N. Security Council has had about Iran’s nuclear program,” R. Nicholas Burns, the under secretary of state for political affairs, said. “Nothing in today’s I.A.E.A. report alleviates our major concern that Iran is trying to develop the technology that would lead to a nuclear capability.”

The British Foreign Office, meanwhile, urged Tehran to “come clean on all outstanding issues without delay.”

The report clearly acknowledges that Iran has ignored for more than a year the Security Council’s demand that it stop enriching uranium.

Iran’s leaders hailed the report as proof that it had been truthful about its nuclear program and was right to resist Western pressure to halt the program. “The world will see that the Iranian nation has been right and the resistance of our nation has been correct,” President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in Iran.

Iran’s new chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, told reporters that the report “means all the claims that Iran’s nuclear activities have a military agenda and are deviant are not true,” and that the basis for Security Council sanctions “has collapsed.”

At the United Nations, Zalmay Khalilzad, the American ambassador, said the United States would move for a new Council resolution imposing additional sanctions on Tehran.

Asked about statements this week from China, a veto-bearing member of the Council, reiterating its opposition to sanctions, Mr. Khalilzad said China must understand that the only way to make diplomacy work in Iran was by forceful Council action.

“In recent days, there has been a dragging of the feet on the part of the Chinese,” he said. “But I don’t think the Chinese would want to take responsibility for the failure of diplomacy.”

The report could also fuel debate about how much time is left for diplomacy to succeed. The confirmation that Iran has 3,000 operational centrifuges suggests that it is quickly moving to a position where it could, if it wanted to, produce a bomb. Iran has denied that it seeks a nuclear weapon.

Under the terms of a “work plan” concluded last summer, Iran was to have met a series of deadlines to resolve all unanswered questions about suspicious nuclear activities dating back two decades.

Mohamed ElBaradei, the Egyptian lawyer who leads the agency, was harshly criticized by skeptics who said that deal would simply give Iran more time to stall while progressing toward its goal of making a nuclear weapon.

Dr. ElBaradei defended the plan at the time, saying there were “clear deadlines” that proved it was “not an open-ended invitation to dallying with the agency or a ruse to prolong negotiations and avoid sanctions.”

Now, officials close to the agency are saying it was unrealistic to expect that Iran would be able to disclose all relevant information so soon in the delicate process. They said the deadlines could slip into January or February.

The report acknowledged that Iran had provided the agency with considerable new documentation and allowed interviews with top nuclear officials involved in the centrifuge program in the 1980s and 1990s.

Iran “has provided sufficient access to individuals and has responded in a timely manner to questions and provided clarifications and amplifications on issues raised in the context of the work plan,” the report said.

But it concluded that additional verification was needed to guarantee that the explanations were complete.

One senior official linked to the nuclear agency described overall progress on the work plan as “a significant step forward.” But he said that he “would not call” the centrifuge file “closed,” stressing that verification was a “continuous process.”

He compared the agency’s information to a jigsaw puzzle of the Mona Lisa, saying that it was a painting of a “charming, good-looking young lady, smiling,” but that there were “bits and pieces missing.”

In Washington, the Institute for Science and International Security, a private group that tracks nuclear issues, said the report “shows the centrifuge issue is not closed.”

One major concern centers on a new generation of centrifuges that Mr. Ahmadinejad last year claimed Iran was developing. In a speech, he boasted that the P-2 centrifuge, a modified, more advanced and reliable machine than the P-1 that Iran had been using, would quadruple Iran’s powers of uranium enrichment.

The report said that Iran on divulged some information about the P-2 program on Nov. 8, adding that it would discuss the issue further in December.

That means Iran missed a reporting deadline to clear up the issue even while pursuing the far more sophisticated and faster way of making atomic fuel. American officials and inspectors fear the new generation of centrifuges could speed Iran’s path to developing a nuclear weapon.

One of the officials close to the agency said that even if all other issues of Iran’s past activities were resolved, a sticking point could be the refusal of the United States to turn over classified documents Iran is demanding that involve a suspected Iranian entity called the Green Salt Project. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity under normal diplomatic rules.

The project is said to have worked on uranium processing, high explosives and a missile warhead design, and the agency suspects links between Green Salt and Iran’s ostensibly peaceful nuclear program. If that evidence were substantiated, it would undercut Iran’s claims that its program is aimed solely at producing electrical power.

Iran, while dismissing the existence of such a program, wants to take possession of the documents that the United States uncovered on a stolen laptop, which it says pertain to Green Salt. Iran could cry foul unless the Americans turn over the documents, which Dr. ElBaradei said Iran had a right to.

Still, the new report urged Iran to do more if the work plan is to succeed. “Iran’s active cooperation and full transparency are indispensable for full and prompt implementation of the work plan,” the report said.

The report also faulted Iran for continuing to deny inspectors broad access to its nuclear facilities and manufacturing sites under a voluntary protocol that Iran has suspended. The agency’s limited access means that it cannot say with certainty that Iran does not have a secret weapons-related uranium enrichment program.

The agency’s 35-nation board is to meet next week to discuss the report. Javier Solana, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, is expected to deliver a second separate report on the status of negotiations with Iran’s nuclear team.

Mr. Solana represents the five permanent members of the Security Council — the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain — plus Germany in a stalemated process designed to persuade Iran to suspend its enrichment activities as required by the Council. In a recent meeting in Rome with the Iranians, Mr. Solana failed to make any progress, and the Iranians have yet to set a date for a follow-up meeting.

Elaine Sciolino reported from Vienna and William J. Broad from New York. David E. Sanger and Helene Cooper contributed reporting from Washington and Warren Hoge from the United Nations.

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