Iran Nuclear NewsUN inspectors 'powerless to stop atom bomb plans in...

UN inspectors ‘powerless to stop atom bomb plans in Iran’

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Sunday Telegraph: The former head of the United Nations inspection team that is investigating Iran’s nuclear programme has called on the Security Council to give it greater powers so it can determine whether Teheran is trying to build an atomic bomb. Sunday Telegraph

By Con Coughlin

The former head of the United Nations inspection team that is investigating Iran’s nuclear programme has called on the Security Council to give it greater powers so it can determine whether Teheran is trying to build an atomic bomb.

For the past six years Dr Pierre Goldschmidt, a Belgian nuclear scientist, has been in charge of the inspectors sent by the UN-sponsored International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna, to investigate Iran’s nuclear programme.

Throughout that period the Iranians have tried to conceal crucial aspects of the programme and have indulged in a dangerous game of diplomatic brinkmanship with the IAEA and the UN over the level of access provided to the inspection teams.

“It is reaching the point where it is beyond critical,” Dr Goldschmidt told The Sunday Telegraph in his first interview since retiring from the IAEA in July. “The IAEA can only work on the basis of the facts that are presented to it, and there have been many serious omissions by the Iranians. The Iranians are exploiting all the loopholes in the international agreements. As to why they are doing this you can draw your own conclusions.”

Dr Goldschmidt believes that to deal effectively with Iran, IAEA inspectors need to be given greater powers than they currently have.

“As it stands, the investigating authority of the agency is too limited with regard to Iran. To do its job properly it needs to have more authority than is currently available to it.”

In particular, he wants the inspectors to be given the power to interview any Iranian scientist they choose. The inspectors should also have the freedom to visit any military institutions to inspect and take environmental samples, and should be provided with all the original documents relating to Iran’s nuclear programme.

Similar powers were given to IAEA inspectors investigating Saddam Hussein’s weapons programmes in Iraq.

But Dr Goldschmidt refused to be drawn on whether he believed Iran was involved in a clandestine operation to build a nuclear bomb.

“These issues are very sensitive and I prefer not to give my personal opinion,” he said. “I am a scientist and I like to deal with the facts. And I would like to see all the facts relating to Iran. Then I could reach an informed opinion.”

He took issue, however, with the way Mohammed El Baradei, the head of the IAEA, had handled negotiations with Iran in the past two years. “El Baradei says that any judgement about Iran should be made on their intentions. My view is that we should look at the indications, not the intentions, and then decide.

“As things stand we cannot prove that Iran has a military nuclear programme. But do you have indications that this is the case? This is the question I think everyone should now be asking.”

Apart from heading up IAEA investigation teams in Iran, Dr Goldschmidt was also responsible for inspecting other rogue nuclear states, such as North Korea and Libya.

He cited the difficulties experienced by the IAEA in investigating Libya’s nuclear programme as an example of the agency’s inability under its current mandate to determine whether a country’s intentions were peaceful or military.

Until Tripoli agreed to dismantle its nuclear weapons programme in December 2003, Libyan officials had insisted that their research was aimed at developing a domestic nuclear power industry.

“Our experience with Libya shows that it is almost impossible for the agency to decide whether a country’s nuclear intentions are peaceful or otherwise,” Dr Goldschmidt said. “If the Libyans had not admitted [that they were trying to build an atomic bomb”> we would not have been able to prove it.”

The confrontation between Iran and the UN over Teheran’s nuclear programme is likely to intensify this week when the Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, travels to New York to meet Kofi Annan, the UN secretary general.

The meeting follows Iran’s decision last month to renege on its agreement with Britain, France and Germany to halt its nuclear activities until the IAEA had thoroughly investigated its facilities.

Mr Ahmadinejad personally ordered work to resume on processing uranium at the plant at Isfahan, prompting Mr El Baradei to threaten to report Iran to the UN Security Council. The Iranians, however, managed to persuade the IAEA to defer its decision until after Mr Ahmadinejad has spoken to Mr Annan.

This has infuriated EU officials who believe that the Iranian move was designed to embarrass their efforts to resolve the issue peacefully.

“The Iranians are up to their old games again,” said a senior European official. “They think they can ignore the past two years and start again. It is just another delaying tactic.”

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