Iran Nuclear NewsIran nuclear work in spotlight as IAEA begins meet

Iran nuclear work in spotlight as IAEA begins meet

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ImageAFP: The UN atomic watchdog begins a week-long meeting Monday with allegations that Iran conducted experiments aimed at making a nuclear bomb expected to take centre stage. By Simon Morgan

ImageVIENNA (AFP) — The UN atomic watchdog begins a week-long meeting Monday with allegations that Iran conducted experiments aimed at making a nuclear bomb expected to take centre stage.

The International Atomic Energy Agency's 35-member board of governors convenes for its traditional September meeting amid accusations that IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei is withholding evidence that may help determine whether or not Iran is trying to build an atomic bomb, as the West — and the United States in particular — charges.

At the same time, Iran insists that Washington's intelligence on the alleged weaponisation studies is forged and has not handed over any original documents to back up its accusations.

In his latest report on the IAEA's six-year investigation into Iran's controversial programme, ElBaradei complained that one of the main sticking points remains Tehran's refusal to cooperate on the issue of the so-called alleged studies.

This comprises documentation collected from a wide range of intelligence sources that suggest Iran was trying to develop a nuclear warhead, convert uranium and test high explosives and a missile re-entry vehicle.

Iran has repeatedly dismissed the allegations as "baseless" and the evidence used to back up the charges as "fabricated", but has done little so far to disprove them.

"Regrettably, the agency has not been able to engage Iran in any substantive discussions about these outstanding issues for over a year," ElBaradei stated in his latest report.

Iran nevertheless saw the new report, which noted a reduction in the number of centrifuges actively enriching uranium at the enrichment plant in Natanz during a visit in August, as "positive".

Furthermore, Iran also granted UN inspectors access to a research reactor in Arak.

But diplomats within the IAEA were wary of reading too much into these developments, as the observation on the centrifuges was based on just one visit, and they were likely were shut down due to technical problems.

David Albright, president of the Washington-based think tank the Institute for Science and International Security, noted that Iran continued to increase the number of centrifuges at the plant and kept the rate of production of low-enriched uranium remained steady throughout July 2009.

The IAEA board will also hear allegations — made first by Israel and more recently by France — that ElBaradei is holding back key parts of his report on Iran.

ElBaradei, who steps down as IAEA chief at the end of November, has regularly been accused of being too soft on Iran in the past, not least by the United States.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner has asked publicly why ElBaradei refuses to provide the annexes of the report, in which he said "there are elements which enable us to ask questions about the reality of an atomic bomb," in particular on issues of warheads and transport.

One foreign intelligence source told AFP that the paper in question was a "thick document", but a number of diplomats, as well as sources within the IAEA, were sceptical whether such an annex really existed.

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