Iran Nuclear NewsIran Denies U.N. Atomic Agency A Second Visit to...

Iran Denies U.N. Atomic Agency A Second Visit to Suspect Site

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The Wall Street Journal: Iran won’t allow United Nations inspectors to revisit a military base where U.S. officials suspect it might have tested high-explosive components for a nuclear weapon, opening a new source of tension between the Bush administration and Tehran over its possible nuclear ambitions. The Wall Street Journal

By CARLA ANNE ROBBINS

WASHINGTON – Iran won’t allow United Nations inspectors to revisit a military base where U.S. officials suspect it might have tested high-explosive components for a nuclear weapon, opening a new source of tension between the Bush administration and Tehran over its possible nuclear ambitions.

Iran’s refusal comes at a particularly delicate time. President Bush is weighing European appeals that the U.S. provide some economic incentives to Tehran to abandon its nuclear program, a step he has been reluctant to take for fear of rewarding Tehran for questionable behavior. How forcefully the U.S. responds likely will depend on how deeply Mr. Bush wants to invest in European-led negotiations.

American and European officials said yesterday they weren’t sure if Iran was being obstructionist to make a political point or because it is hiding incriminating evidence of nuclear work at the Parchin site. “It’s certainly not helpful,” said one frustrated European official, who said Iran’s refusal could complicate already-difficult negotiations with Tehran but wasn’t likely to scuttle them.

In January, after months of public and private pressure, International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors were allowed to visit the Parchin military complex. Diplomats with knowledge of the agency’s work say the inspectors found no evidence of nuclear-weapons work there but that the inspectors had been given only limited access to the vast site and would need a return visit to resolve their doubts.

In a verbal report to the IAEA board yesterday in Vienna, Deputy Director General Pierre Goldschmidt quoted Iran as saying it had “fulfilled” the agency’s expectation and “thus there is no justification for any additional visit.” Iran says Parchin is a conventional military base and thus not subject to IAEA monitoring and that the January visit was at its sufferance. It also says it has no nuclear-weapons ambitions and that its nuclear program is solely for producing energy.

For 18 years, Iran hid vital parts of its nuclear program from international view, and it has played a regular game of cat and mouse with inspectors ever since. Yesterday’s board meeting was the first since June 2003 that the IAEA didn’t provide with a written report on Iran — a move Vienna diplomats had said reflected both Tehran’s improved cooperation and the fact that there had been no major new discoveries. Mr. Goldschmidt said yesterday that “Iran has facilitated in a timely manner access to nuclear material and facilities.”

Despite that, his presentation included other intriguing nuggets that U.S. officials were likely to point to as further signs of Tehran’s misbehavior:

After being questioned about its purchasing history, Iran only recently told the agency that, in the mid-1990s, members of the nuclear black market had offered to sell equipment to an unnamed Iranian company that wasn’t part of the country’s civilian nuclear complex. A Vienna diplomat said yesterday that that company likely was military-run. U.S. officials long have insisted that the Iranian military is running a parallel covert weapons program.

The agency is investigating purchases of equipment that could be used for a uranium-enrichment program that were to be sent to Lavisan-Shian, a site near Tehran, that was razed before the IAEA could adequately inspect it. Iran hasn’t responded to the agency’s request to interview two officials involved in the procurement effort and brushed off the IAEA’s request for other information, saying that, since the items were dual-use, “Iran is not obliged to declare” them. Enriched uranium can be used for nuclear-reactor fuel or for a nuclear weapon.

Iran only recently told the agency about a 1987 meeting with members of the Pakistani nuclear black market, in which it was offered a much wider array of uranium-enrichment wares than it had disclosed to the agency, including equipment that could be used to make the core of a nuclear weapon. Iran said it had purchased only a small part of what was offered.

As the centerpiece of its negotiations with the so-called EU-3 — Britain, France and Germany — Iran has agreed to suspend all of its uranium-enrichment activities, with the IAEA monitoring that suspension. Mr. Goldschmidt offered a mixed report on Iran’s behavior. Iran has halted all enrichment and stopped assembling centrifuges — which spin uranium gas to extract explosive isotopes. But it has done some maintenance and “quality control” work that both the agency and European negotiators have objected to. Iran has since halted that work, Mr. Goldschmidt said.

U.S. officials said that, at a minimum, they would use yesterday’s presentation to insist that the IAEA provide a written report before the next board meeting in June.

The Europeans have asked the U.S. to at least drop its opposition to Iran beginning accession talks with the World Trade Organization and to allow European sales of aircraft parts with American content.

A senior official said yesterday that before Mr. Bush would agree to that, he would insist on a “written in blood” commitment from the Europeans to refer Iran’s case to the U.N. Security Council for punishment at the first sign Iran had resumed its uranium-enrichment efforts.

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