Iran Nuclear NewsIran's Nuclear Program Remains a Mystery, U.N. Says

Iran’s Nuclear Program Remains a Mystery, U.N. Says

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New York Times: Despite an intense, two-and-a-half year investigation by the United Nations, key elements of Iran’s nuclear program remain shrouded in mystery, according to a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations’ watchdog agency on nuclear power. New York Times

By MARK LANDLER

VIENNA – Despite an intense, two-and-a-half year investigation by the United Nations, key elements of Iran’s nuclear program remain shrouded in mystery, according to a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations’ watchdog agency on nuclear power.

The report, which was distributed today to members of the agency’s board, also confirmed that Iran had begun converting uranium, ending a voluntary suspension of such activity during negotiations about its nuclear program with Britain, France, and Germany.

That was expected, since Iran said last month it would no longer abide by the suspension. But the distinct lack of progress on other fronts could heighten tensions between Iran and the West.

“Two and a half years had passed, and patience is wearing thin,” said an official close to the agency, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the confidential nature of the report.

The United States, which believes Tehran is pursuing nuclear weapons, is likely to renew its call for Iran to be brought before the United Nations Security Council for possible sanctions. European officials hold out hope for a revival of talks between Iran and Europe, though they, too, are frustrated.

Diplomats have been waiting for the report, by the agency’s director-general Mohamed ElBaradei, which some hope will give them the ammunition to take further steps against Iran.

A copy of the report was provided to The New York Times by a diplomat, who wanted its contents made public before the agency’s governing board meets here later this month to discuss Iran.

Much of the information was in the agency’s last major report on Iran’s nuclear program in November 2004. But this document revealed mounting frustration within the agency about its inability to get answers to questions, despite repeated requests and visits by its inspectors.

Departing from its carefully neutral tone, the report concluded, “In view of the fact that the agency is not in a position to clarify some important outstanding issues after two-and-a-half years of intensive inspection and investigation, Iran’s full transparency is indispensable and overdue.”

Among the questions are how Iran obtained centrifuges used to enrich uranium in the mid-1990’s, why it did not try to build an advanced P-2 centrifuge until 2002, despite getting blueprints for it in 1995, and what kind of nuclear research was it doing at various sites, one of which has since been razed.

The Iranian government continues to resist the agency’s efforts to conduct a full inspection of a site in Parchin, where Iran is suspected of nuclear activities. Inspectors have been permitted to visit only limited areas on the site, where they have not detected nuclear material.

The agency said there were also further discrepancies in information provided by Iran about its plutonium research. Plutonium, like highly enriched uranium, can be used to make nuclear explosives.

Iran, which contends its nuclear program is peaceful, said that the report had both “positive and negative points.” “Many of the questions have been answered from a legal and technical point of view,” Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, said on Iranian state television.

The report, however, referred to only a couple of areas where it had gathered more information since last November. One likely to benefit Iran is its investigation of several sites in the country that were contaminated by highly enriched uranium and low-enriched uranium.

These sites had housed centrifuge equipment obtained from the clandestine network operated by Pakistan’s chief nuclear scientist, Abdul Qadeer Khan. The contamination has raised suspicion that Iran was enriching uranium beyond the level necessary for civilian uses.

The Iranian government contends the equipment was contaminated in Pakistan before it was exported to Iran.

After interviewing Pakistani scientists and conducting environmental samples in Pakistan and Dubai, where the parts were stored before being shipped to Iran, the agency said Iran’s explanation was convincing – at least as it applied to the evidence of highly enriched uranium.

“We are not yet sure everything is O.K., ” said the official. “But in a big picture, yes, it tends to support their statement.”

Some of the disclosures in the report could provide ammunition to both Iran’s critics and defenders.

For example, it notes discrepancies in Iran’s account of its plutonium research activities, which critics have cited as evidence that Iran is trying to conceal a weapons program. Iran claimed its plutonium experiments began in 1988 and ended in 1993. But the agency found plutonium solutions in bottles that appeared to be “younger” than the 12 years claimed by Iran.

As with many other elements of Iran’s nuclear program, the agency said it needed to do more investigation before it could make a final assessment of the plutonium research activities.

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