Reuters: The U.N. nuclear watchdog's top investigator will launch talks in Tehran on Monday to press for Iranian answers to Western intelligence alleging that Iran covertly studied how to design atomic bombs.
By Mark Heinrich
VIENNA (Reuters) – The U.N. nuclear watchdog's top investigator will launch talks in Tehran on Monday to press for Iranian answers to Western intelligence alleging that Iran covertly studied how to design atomic bombs.
Olli Heinonen raised a diplomatic stir in February with a power-point presentation indicating links in Iran between projects to process uranium, test explosives and modify a missile cone in a way suitable for a nuclear warhead.
Iran has dismissed the intelligence as baseless, forged or irrelevant. But the U.N. nuclear watchdog is seeking substantive explanations, rather than denials lacking evidence, to wind up a long inquiry into Iran's secretive quest for nuclear power.
"A team led by Olli Heinonen will travel to Tehran early next week for meetings with Iranian officials on the alleged (nuclear weapons) studies," International Atomic Energy Agency spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said.
A diplomat close to the IAEA said Heinonen, the agency's deputy director in charge of non-proliferation safeguards, would push for credible Iranian responses to the intelligence.
Iran's official news agency IRNA said Javad Vaeedi, deputy head of its Supreme National Security Council, would seek to "promote cooperation" with the IAEA in two days of talks.
IRNA quoted an unnamed Iranian official as not ruling out discussions about the "purported studies" but underlining "Iran's viewpoint that the issue has ended (after) Tehran presented its evaluation of it".
IAEA Director Mohamed ElBaradei disagrees. "This is an issue of importance, obviously. The international community needs to make sure Iran did not have a weapons program," he told reporters in Berlin on Thursday. "We are going to Tehran next week to start a dialogue on (these) alleged studies."
An ElBaradei report in February said the IAEA had resolved all outstanding questions into Iran's nuclear past except for the indications of attempts to "weaponise" nuclear materials.
IRAN POSTPONED INITIAL TALKS
Discussions were to have begun in Vienna last weekend but Iran abruptly called off a meeting between its nuclear program chief and ElBaradei without giving an explanation.
Iran says it wants to enrich uranium as nuclear fuel solely for electricity so it can export more oil.
World powers suspect Iran's underlying goal is to be able to make nuclear weapons from the dual-use enrichment technology.
The United Nations has slapped three batches of sanctions on Iran for hiding enrichment work from the IAEA until 2003, failing to prove to inspectors since that it is wholly for peaceful purposes, and refusing to suspend enrichment.
A summary of Heinonen's classified presentation obtained by Reuters in February said he displayed an organizational chart from the intelligence linking the three projects and naming the man who ran them for the Defence Ministry.
The summary, compiled by diplomats who were present, said Iran had repeatedly refused to let inspectors interview Mohsen Fakrizadeh or visit sites where alleged experiments took place.
Some Western diplomats said the information also indicated Iran may have continued the projects past the autumn of 2003 when a recent U.S. intelligence estimate said Iran had shelved weaponisation research.
IAEA officials stress that the intelligence details about weapons studies, much of it from a laptop computer spirited by a defector out of Iran in 2004 and handed to the United States, remain unverified but do warrant thorough investigation.
Heinonen said the IAEA had some information of its own and was not merely relying on intelligence from Western states.
(Additional reporting by Tehran bureau; Editing by Catherine Evans)