Reuters: Iran is pushing ahead with uranium enrichment and still stonewalling U.N. probes even as world powers mull sanctions against Tehran over fears it may be secretly pursuing atom bombs, diplomats said on Monday.
By Mark Heinrich
VIENNA (Reuters) – Iran is pushing ahead with uranium enrichment and still stonewalling U.N. probes even as world powers mull sanctions against Tehran over fears it may be secretly pursuing atom bombs, diplomats said on Monday.
A new International Atomic Energy Agency report on Iran due out this week is expected to say that Tehran continues to ignore IAEA calls for transparency while it prepares for a major expansion of its nuclear fuel program in the coming months.
“It will be more of the same — no progress on resolving the outstanding questions and an unchanged pace of small-scale enrichment,” said a senior diplomat familiar with the Vienna-based IAEA’s Iran dossier.
“The Iranians have basically told the IAEA that unless control over their case is returned by the U.N. Security Council to the agency, there will be no explanations on issues the IAEA has been investigating for some time.”
Insisting its nuclear work is only to meet electricity needs, Iran has denounced possible Security Council sanctions as a U.S.-driven plot to stunt its economy. Tehran has hinted it would curb IAEA access to its nuclear sites in retaliation.
IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei issues reports on Iran before each of the several yearly meetings of the agency’s 35-nation board of governors, which next convenes on November 23-24.
Diplomats said he was likely to say Iran still had not clarified questions about black-market acquisitions of material for centrifuge enrichment machines, and research linking uranium ore processing, high-explosive tests and missile warhead design.
Other issues include the extent of research to speed up the production rate of centrifuges.
Iran last month fired up a second cascade, or interlinked chain, of 164 centrifuges, doubling its potential enrichment capacity. On Sunday, Iran said it aimed to have 3,000 on line by March 2007 despite U.N. demands to halt the endeavor.
With 3,000 centrifuges spinning, the vanguard of a planned 54,000-strong “industrial-scale” operation, Iran could produce enough highly enriched uranium for one bomb within a year, nuclear proliferation experts estimate.
Iran’s centrifuges so far have enriched only nominal amounts of uranium, and only to the level needed for power plant fuel.
It denies any intent to refine to the level needed for nuclear bombs.