AP: Iran has stymied the latest U.N. attempt to investigate allegations that it tried to make nuclear weapons, diplomats said Tuesday.
The Associated Press
By GEORGE JAHN
VIENNA, Austria (AP) — Iran has stymied the latest U.N. attempt to investigate allegations that it tried to make nuclear weapons, diplomats said Tuesday.
The International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, will acknowledge it was unable to follow up on the allegations in a report to be presented as early as Friday to its 35-nation board, two diplomats told The Associated Press.
IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei expressed optimism a month ago when he announced that Iran agreed to review intelligence collected by the U.N. agency, just a few weeks after Tehran had declared the books closed on any attempt to look into its alleged nuclear arms programs.
"By the end of May we will be in a position to get the explanation and clarification from Iran" about the allegations, ElBaradei said then, describing Tehran's apparent change of heart as a "positive step."
But the diplomats said Iran had again rejected the evidence presented by agency officials as bogus and refused to hold further discussions or allow U.N. experts to check into the charges.
In February, IAEA Deputy Director General Olli Heinonen detailed the intelligence — and the results of the agency's own investigations — to the board at a closed door presentation.
Those present at the meeting said the material included an Iranian video depicting mock-ups of a missile re-entry vehicle. They said Heinonen suggested the component was configured in a way that strongly suggested it was meant to carry a nuclear warhead.
A senior diplomat at the meeting also said other documentation showed the Iranians experimenting with warheads and missile trajectories where "the height of the burst … didn't make sense for conventional warheads."
On Monday, ElBaradei said again that "we haven't seen indications or any concrete evidence that Iran is building a nuclear weapon." But a senior diplomat familiar with the IAEA's work recently told AP that leading agency experts considered much of the intelligence forwarded by the U.S and other nations compelling evidence that Iran engaged in secret nuclear arms work.
The two diplomats, who agreed to discuss the new report Tuesday only if granted anonymity because the information was confidential, said Iranian officials reiterated during the monthlong probe their longtime position that all of the nuclear activities — including nearly two decades of clandestine work discovered only six years ago — was peaceful.
One of the diplomats, who provided extensive details of the pending report, said that stance left the situation stalled.
As expected, the report, which will serve as the platform for debate on Iran during the IAEA's June board meeting, will also confirm that Tehran continues to defy U.N. Security Council demands that it suspend uranium enrichment. That refusal has drawn three sets of U.N. sanctions.
Still, the diplomats said, the report will also note the enrichment program has not been greatly expanded despite pronouncements to the contrary by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
In announcing major progress in Iran's push for nuclear power, Ahmadinejad said last month that Iranian scientists were putting 6,000 new uranium enriching centrifuges into place, about twice the existing number, and testing a new type that works five times faster.
But the diplomat who provided details on the report said it will say the rate of expansion has been much below that touted by Ahmadinejad.
He and other diplomats close to the IAEA previously said Iran has exaggerated its progress and is having problems operating the 3,000 centrifuges already in place.
Additionally, the diplomat speculated Tuesday that Iran might be holding back on a quick build-up of enrichment capabilities hoping it will be easier to come to terms with the U.S. administration that will succeed President Bush, known for his hard-line Iran policies.
Iran insists its enrichment program is meant only to generate electricity using nuclear reactors. But because of its past clandestine activities, including some that could have applications for weapons research, the international community is concerned that Tehran wants to enrich uranium to a purity suitable for use in atomic bombs.
Iran is known to have a little more than 3,000 centrifuges operating at its underground nuclear facility in Natanz. That is the commonly accepted figure for a nuclear enrichment program that is past the experimental stage and can be used as a platform for a full industrial-scale program that could churn out enough enriched material for dozens of nuclear warheads over time.
In the enrichment process, uranium gas is pumped into a series of centrifuges called "cascades." The gas is spun at supersonic speeds to remove impurities. Enriching at a low level produces nuclear fuel, but at a higher level it can produce the material for a warhead.
Iran has said it plans to move toward large-scale uranium enrichment that ultimately will involve 54,000 centrifuges.