Iran Nuclear NewsReport stirs questions about Iran's nuclear program

Report stirs questions about Iran’s nuclear program

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The Wall Street Journal: Under pressure from United Nations investigators, Iran has admitted receiving basic instructions on how to cast enriched uranium into a form that can be used in a nuclear weapon. The Wall Street Journal

By CARLA ANNE ROBBINS
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
November 19, 2005; Page A4

WASHINGTON — Under pressure from United Nations investigators, Iran has admitted receiving basic instructions on how to cast enriched uranium into a form that can be used in a nuclear weapon.

The disclosure, which came in a confidential report Friday to the board of the International Atomic Energy Agency, raises new, disturbing questions about Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The report, reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, says the uranium-casting documents were part of a larger package of technical information, schematics and drawings primarily on how to enrich uranium provided to Tehran in 1987 by the nuclear black market headed by A.Q. Khan.

Also on Friday, the U.S. signaled it is willing to give Russia more time to try to broker a compromise with Iran over its nuclear program. Moscow — with until now only hesitant backing from the U.S. and Europe — has proposed that Iran be allowed to convert uranium to gas on its soil, while the far more sensitive step of enriching uranium would take place in Russia. Enriched uranium can be used for nuclear fuel or a nuclear weapon.

Iran rejected the idea a week ago. But Friday, U.S. National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley said “we think that doesn’t end it.” Mr. Hadley, who spoke to reporters after a meeting between President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin in South Korea, said, “We hope that, over time, Iran will see the virtue of this approach and it may provide a way out.”

Paradoxically, Friday’s confidential report to the IAEA board bolsters U.S. allegations that Iran is seeking to build a nuclear weapon. And indeed, U.S. officials until now had said they would push to have Iran’s case referred to the Security Council when the board meets in Vienna next week.

But with so many troubles both in Iraq and at home, President Bush doesn’t want another showdown, especially when close allies like Britain are also eager for a compromise. The confidential report details Iran’s continuing refusal to share information with IAEA inspectors about its secret pursuit of sophisticated enrichment technology and possible military involvement in what Tehran insists is a civilian nuclear-fuel program.

Iran, which has previously admitted — but then only under duress — to extensive dealings with the Khan network, told the agency that it hadn’t requested the casting documents. Diplomats with knowledge of the agency’s work said investigators considered the finding extremely worrisome, but still not proof that Iran has an active weapons program. Investigators haven’t found any sign that Iran actually tried to form uranium into “hemispherical forms” that could be used for weapons. Nor have they found a weapons design in Iran, like they did in Libya. The Libyans also said that they hadn’t requested the bomb design from the Khan network.

Iran has moved repeatedly between confrontation and conciliation since it pulled out of negotiations with the Europeans last summer and resumed converting uranium. Throughout, Iran has counted on the protection of Russia, China and the so-called nonaligned members of the board. Many of those members have strong economic ties to Tehran or are fearful that diplomatic censure could open the way for a U.S.-led war.

Iran has sought to mollify IAEA inspectors with improved access and information. Indeed, before Friday’s report, U.S. and European diplomats had expressed concern that Tehran was winning the agency over. The report gave Tehran only limited credit, describing it as “more forthcoming” in providing requested documentation on the 1987 dealing with the Khan network. It also noted that Tehran had allowed investigators a return visit to the Parchin explosives test range, a site some intelligence analysts suspected might be part of an illicit nuclear-weapons program.

But the five-page report strongly chides Iran for not providing even more cooperation. “Iran’s full transparency is indispensable and overdue,” the report said. The report asks both for more documentation and for access to “relevant military owned workshops and [research and development”> locations.”

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