Reuters: Iran faces pressure at a U.N. nuclear watchdog governors meeting starting on Monday to address Western intelligence alleging it conducted covert studies into how to make nuclear weapons. By Mark Heinrich
VIENNA (Reuters) – Iran faces pressure at a U.N. nuclear watchdog governors meeting starting on Monday to address Western intelligence alleging it conducted covert studies into how to make nuclear weapons.
Iran has dismissed the documentation as fabricated and has pursued a uranium enrichment programme it says is meant only to generate electricity, but whose technology could also be turned to yielding atomic bombs.
Mistrust in Iranian intentions, fanned by Iran’s past concealment of nuclear work and continued restrictions on U.N. inspections, is expected to lead to a vote to widen sanctions against Tehran by the U.N. Security Council on Monday.
If sanctions are adopted, Western missions accredited to the International Atomic Energy Agency may table a resolution at its 35-nation governing board meeting this week to prod Iran to prove the emerging intelligence is wrong, diplomats said.
It would be the first such measure by IAEA governors since they referred Tehran to the Security Council two years ago on suspicion of having run a covert nuclear arms programme.
Developing nations were questioning the need for action.
They noted the IAEA reported on Feb. 22 that new Iranian cooperation had helped it settle all other issues they had about Tehran’s past activity, and that agency sleuths had yet to verify the intelligence for authenticity.
But Western concerns grew last week at an IAEA presentation expanding on the report with documents suggesting links in Iran between projects to process uranium, test high explosives and modify a missile cone for a nuclear payload.
The report by IAEA director Mohamed ElBaradei also said Iran was testing advanced centrifuges able to enrich uranium much faster than an erratic old model now in use, thumbing its nose at U.N. resolutions demanding it suspend all nuclear activity.
“(ElBaradei) has reported progress. Unfortunately he has reported more progress in Iran’s centrifuge programme than in Iran’s willingness to explain past weapons-related work and to allow IAEA inspectors to verify it is halted,” Gregory Schulte, U.S. ambassador to the IAEA, said at the weekend.
“Troubling indications of recent weapons-related activities, combined with Iran’s continued pursuit of enrichment capabilities … give added impetus for international concern and Security Council action,” he said.
Also raising eyebrows was documentation highlighted at the presentation indicating Iran continued “weaponisation studies” into 2004, calling into question a U.S. intelligence estimate in December assessing that Iran shelved such activity in 2003.
Iranian IAEA ambassador Ali Asghar Soltanieh declared last week that Tehran had answered all outstanding questions the IAEA had about its nuclear programme and the file is now “closed”.
He said the IAEA lacked both the expertise and mandate to probe Iranian explosives tests and design work on a missile warhead, denying these projects had any relation to conversion of uranium for atomic fuel as the intelligence indicates.
The material came from a laptop smuggled out of Iran and given to Washington. Melding the data with its own findings, Iranian procurement files and intelligence from other nations, the IAEA confronted Iran with details for the first time last month and vows to keep pressing it for a substantive response.
“We have a fairly extensive set of documents, internally consistent, various parts fitting in with others. This would be fairly difficult to falsify,” said a senior IAEA official who asked for anonymity, citing political sensitivities.
“Iran must show us why this material is baseless or forged.”
Diplomats stressed no decision had been made to pursue a board resolution and the idea could be dropped if it risked a damaging Western-developing nation split that Iran could cite as proof there is no broad consensus against its nuclear strivings.
“If the West forced a vote here, they could win a majority but at what cost? There has been better cooperation by Iran with the IAEA of late and we don’t want political interference that could jeopardise this,” an Asian diplomat told Reuters.