New York Times: Iran has admitted that it conducted small-scale experiments to create plutonium, one of the pathways to building nuclear weapons, for five years beyond the date when it previously insisted it had ended all such work, a senior official of the International Atomic Energy Agency is expected to report Thursday. In an oral statement to be delivered at a meeting of the nuclear watchdog agency’s board, the agency’s deputy director, Pierre Goldschmidt, will say Iran made the admissions after being confronted with the result of laboratory tests conducted on samples collected from an Iranian nuclear site. New York Times
By RICHARD BERNSTEIN
VIENNA – Iran has admitted that it conducted small-scale experiments to create plutonium, one of the pathways to building nuclear weapons, for five years beyond the date when it previously insisted it had ended all such work, a senior official of the International Atomic Energy Agency is expected to report Thursday.
In an oral statement to be delivered at a meeting of the nuclear watchdog agency’s board, the agency’s deputy director, Pierre Goldschmidt, will say Iran made the admissions after being confronted with the result of laboratory tests conducted on samples collected from an Iranian nuclear site.
Mr. Goldschmidt’s three-page statement was provided to The New York Times on Wednesday, after it had been leaked to the French News Agency and other news services.
The United States is likely to use the statement to bolster its arguments that Iran continues to withhold important information about its progress on its nuclear research. Since 2003, when Iran first began admitting that it had hidden 17 years of work from the nuclear agency, it made assurances that its accounting of its activities was full. But it has repeatedly had to revise that accounting, often in the face of evidence from the agency’s scientific analyses.
The agency statement is coming as Europe and Iran negotiate over the future of Iran’s nuclear program.
In advance of the Iranian elections on Friday, Tehran has insisted that it will never give up its right to manufacture nuclear fuel. But it maintains that its nuclear research is aimed solely at generating electrical power, and that it was forced to hide its experiments because of international embargoes.
The United States says it is convinced that Iran is secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons.
“From what I understand of the report, which I haven’t seen, it doesn’t say as much about a new capability or intention as much as it says about Iran’s lack of candor so far,” Corey Hinderstein, deputy director of the Institute for Science and International Security, a Washington research organization that has been critical of Iran, said in a telephone interview.
“It shows that Iran has yet to come clean about its nuclear program,” Ms. Hinderstein said. “Each new revelation that they haven’t told the truth, especially at this late date, increases questions about what else they’re hiding.”
But an Iranian negotiator interviewed in Vienna, Cyrus Nasseri, denied that the disclosures regarding plutonium experiments indicated any effort by Iran to conceal activities.
“What difference would it make for us to say these tests were made 13 years ago or 10 years ago?” he said. “It would make no difference at all, so there cannot be any motive of concealment.” He said the disclosure of new dates reflected the time required to examine the record rather than concealment.
“I can understand that some might want to make a big story out of this,” he continued, “but I’m sorry, it’s not a big story.”
The written text of the statement Mr. Goldschmidt is scheduled to make Thursday refers to plutonium separation experiments and says, “Iran has said that the experiments were completed in 1993 and that no plutonium had been separated since then.”
But, the statement continues, the agency’s investigations of plutonium discs brought to Vienna under seal in October 2003 indicated that one sample had been processed in 1995 and the other in 1998. Those findings were hinted at in an agency report published in November.
“In a letter dated 26 May 2005,” the statement says, “Iran confirmed the agency’s understanding with regard to that chronology.”
The new information suggests that Iran worked on plutonium reprocessing for many more years than it has publicly acknowledged. Until now, most of the international focus on Iran has been on its pursuit of another nuclear technology, the enrichment of uranium using gas centrifuges. Like plutonium reprocessing, uranium enrichment can be part of a peaceful nuclear program. But further processed uranium and plutonium can be used to fuel a nuclear bomb.
North Korea is believed to have tried both approaches as well, according to American intelligence officials. The North has boasted that it has created weapons from plutonium – a claim American intelligence agencies say they cannot verify – but has denied enriching uranium.
But in Iran’s case, the nuclear agency has not charged the country with seeking to build weapons, and analysts also cautioned that small-scale plutonium separation experiments are not necessarily related to weapons development. Many countries have tried to recycle nuclear fuel, from Europe to the United States to Japan.
David E. Sanger contributed reporting from Washington for this article, and Elaine Sciolino from Paris.