Bloomberg: The United Nations nuclear agency said it shared with Iran’s government intelligence alleging that the country researched how to make an atomic bomb even as the Persian Gulf nation stepped up cooperation with inspectors. By Jonathan Tirone and Bill Varner
Feb. 22 (Bloomberg) — The United Nations nuclear agency said it shared with Iran’s government intelligence alleging that the country researched how to make an atomic bomb even as the Persian Gulf nation stepped up cooperation with inspectors.
The new information “would be relevant to nuclear weapon research and development,” the International Atomic Energy Agency said today in an 11-page report. “Iran stated that the documents were fabricated,” the IAEA said.
Vienna-based atomic inspectors received permission from more than one national intelligence agency to confront Iran with the documents on Feb. 15, senior IAEA officials with knowledge of the investigation said. The Bush administration gave the go- ahead to share the information, the New York Times reported Feb. 15.
“It should be noted that the agency has not detected the use of nuclear material in connection with the alleged studies, nor does it have credible information in this regard,” according to the report. IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei “has urged Iran to engage actively with the agency in a more detailed examination of the documents.”
The report may influence the level of support for further UN Security Council sanctions against Iran, which were introduced in draft form yesterday in New York. Iran has said it will withhold cooperation from UN atomic inspectors if additional punishments are imposed. ElBaradei has urged all parties to begin direct negotiations, a request the U.S. has refused until Iran stops enriching uranium.
More Sanctions Needed
Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, told reporters in New York that the report strengthens the case that more sanctions against Iran are needed. He said the U.S. and its European allies in the Security Council would call for a vote on the text by the end of next week.
The U.S. and some European countries allege Iran is enriching uranium to learn the techniques needed to make a nuclear weapon. Iran, the world’s No. 2 holder of oil and natural gas reserves, says it is enriching uranium to produce fuel for a nuclear power station.
Iran’s mission to the UN said the IAEA report “serves as the clearest evidence ever coming from the agency, unambiguously attesting to the exclusively peaceful nature of the nuclear program of the Islamic Republic of Iran, both in the past and at present,” in a statement issued today.
“It brings a very substantial development, namely the resolution of all outstanding issues, to the attention of the international community and proves that the allegations made against Iran’s peaceful nuclear program by a few countries have been totally flawed and baseless,” the Iranian statement said.
The IAEA report is the third issued since ElBaradei brokered a June accord with Iran that gives UN inspectors more access to people and places involved in the country’s nuclear work. Since November, inspectors have been able to clear up suspicions over radioactive contamination and a uranium mill, the IAEA said in the report.
“The agency’s knowledge about Iran’s current declared nuclear program has become clearer,” according to the report, which will be presented to the 35-member IAEA board of directors on March 3 at the agency’s Vienna offices. “This information has been provided on an ad hoc basis and not in a consistent and complete manner.”
Iran suspended its atomic weapons program in 2003 and probably can’t produce enough uranium for a bomb until 2010 at the earliest, according to a U.S. National Intelligence Estimate, the consensus of 16 intelligence agencies, published Dec. 3.
Two sets of UN sanctions have already been imposed on Iran. The third, which the U.S. wants put to a vote as soon as possible, would ask all nations to monitor financial transactions with Iran, bar the travel of designated Iranian officials and inspect cargo going to or from the country that might include banned items related to nuclear or missile technology.
“Contrary to the decisions of the Security Council, Iran has not suspended its enrichment-related activities,” the report stated. “In addition, Iran started the development of new-generation centrifuges.”
Iran has continued operating around 3,000 centrifuges under IAEA observation at its Natanz uranium enrichment plant. The government is testing a new version of the fast-spinning machines that separate Uranium-235 isotopes for nuclear fuel.
The National Council of Resistance of Iran, an opposition group that revealed the Islamic clerical regime’s uranium enrichment program in 2002, said this week that the country is making progress toward building a nuclear warhead and has set up a command-and-control center to run its weapons program.
Work on a warhead is advancing at a site southeast of Tehran that hasn’t been seen by UN atomic inspectors, Mohammad Mohaddessin, chairman of the resistance group’s foreign affairs committee, told reporters in Brussels on Feb. 20, citing unidentified regime officials and people who have seen the facilities. He said the U.S. intelligence agencies’ report “is not accurate.”
Investigators reached a standstill in trying to understand an Iranian document showing some details on how to mold uranium metal into the shape of a warhead, the report said. Iran says the documents are part of an unsolicited package of information from Pakistan. Pakistani atomic experts have so far declined to verify Iran’s claim.
The documents are a key to clearing Iran from suspicion over its nuclear program and determining how widespread Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan’s illicit atomic weapons smuggling spread, the IAEA officials said.
The IAEA “will continue to do as much as we can to make sure that we also contribute to the confidence-building process with regard to the past and present nuclear activities in Iran, but naturally, we cannot provide assurance about future intentions,” ElBaradei said on a statement posted on the IAEA’s Web site. “That is inherently a diplomatic process that needs the engagement of all the parties.”
Iran’s concealment of its atomic program for two decades before 2003 means that the government in Tehran needs to volunteer information more consistently about its program before it can be trusted, he said.