Nuclear agency accuses Iran of willful lack of cooperation
PARIS: The International Atomic Energy Agency, in an unusually blunt and detailed report, said Monday that Iran's suspected research into the development of nuclear weapons remains "a matter of serious concern" and continues to need "substantial explanations."
The nine-page report accused the Iranians of a willful lack of cooperation, particularly in answering allegations that its nuclear program may be pointed less at energy generation than at military use.
Part of the agency's case hinges on 18 documents listed in the report and presented to Iran that, according to Western intelligence agencies, indicate the Iranians have ventured into explosives, uranium processing and a missile warhead design - activities that ordinarily would be associated with constructing nuclear weapons.
"There are certain parts of their nuclear program where the military seems to have played a role," said one senior official close to the agency, who spoke on condition of anonymity under normal diplomatic constraints. He added, "We want to understand why."
Iran has dismissed the documents as "forged" or "fabricated," claimed that its experiments and projects had nothing to do with a nuclear weapons program and refused to provide documentation and access to its scientists to support its claims.
The report also makes the serious allegation that Iran is learning to make more powerful centrifuges that are operating faster and more efficiently, the product of robust research and development that has not been fully disclosed to the agency.
That means the country may be producing enriched uranium - which can be used to make electricity or fuel bombs - faster than expected with a parallel program that could replace its older generation of less reliable centrifuges. Some of the centrifuge components have been produced by Iran's military, said the report, prepared by Mohamed ElBaradei, the director general of the agency.
The report makes no effort to disguise the agency's frustration with Iran's lack of transparency. It describes, for example, Iran's installation of new centrifuges, known as the IR-2 and IR-3 (for Iranian second and third generations) and other modifications at its sprawling site at Natanz, as "significant, and as such should have been communicated to the agency."
The agency also said that during a visit in April, it was denied access to sites where centrifuge components are being manufactured and where research of uranium enrichment is being conducted.
The report does not say how much enriched uranium the Iranians are now producing, but the official connected to the agency said that since last December, it was slightly less than 150 kilograms, about double the amount they were producing during the same period about 18 months ago.
"The Iranians are certainly being confronted with some pretty strong evidence of a nuclear weapons program and they are being petulant and defensive," said David Albright, a former weapons inspector who now runs the Institute for Science and International Security. "The report lays out what the agency knows and it is very damning. I've never seen it laid out quite like this."
Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's ambassador to the Vienna-based agency, however, said that the report vindicated Iran's nuclear activities. It "is another document that shows Iran's entire nuclear activities are peaceful," the semi-official Fars News Agency quoted him as saying.
The report is likely to reinforce the view both in Washington and European capitals that Iran is not serious - either in dealing with evidence that the United States has used in charging that Iran had tried to design a weapon or in complying with demands by the United Nations Security Council that it stop enriching uranium.
A National Intelligence estimate published last December by American intelligence agencies concluded that Iran suspended its work on a weapons design in late 2003, in response apparently to mounting international pressure, adding that it wasn't certain whether the weapons work had resumed.
The agency's report highlights the amount of work still to be done before definitive conclusions about the nature of the program can be made, a task that the agency-associated official said would require months.
The absence of Iranian cooperation on nuclear issues comes as the Bush administration, in its waning days, seems powerless to modify Iran's behavior. And in fact, the delicate question seems already pushed to the future with the forceful disagreements in recent days between the Republican presidential candidate, John McCain, and Barack Obama, contending for the Democratic nomination, over whether an American president should negotiate with Iran's leadership.
Still, Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy chief, announced in Brussels on Monday that he would go to Iran soon - hopefully "within the month" - to present a new offer of political, technological, security and trade rewards for Iran if the country halts its uranium enrichment program.
Solana will travel with senior foreign ministry officials of five of the six countries involved in the initiative - Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany - but not the United States, which has refused to hold talks with Iran.
The incentives, agreed on by the six countries in London early this month but still not made public, repackaged and clarified an incentives package presented to Iran in 2006.
Iran rejected it at the time, saying that relinquishing its uranium enrichment program is non-negotiable. Indeed, following the London meeting this month, Iran's foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, said that the new package should not cross Iran's "red line" - shorthand for Iran's uranium-enrichment program.
On May 13, Iran responded with its own package of proposals, calling for new international talks on political, economic and security issues, including its nuclear program and the Arab-Israeli peace process.
The proposal, made in a letter from Mottaki to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, includes the creation of international fuel production facilities in Iran and other countries - a long-standing goal of Iran - as well as improved supervision of Iran's nuclear program by the Vienna-based atomic energy agency.
Over the years, the United States and France have led the way in opposing the idea of a fuel-production facility in Iran, arguing that it would allow Iranian experts to both master the complex process of enriching uranium and use that knowledge in a secret bomb-making project.
Iran insists that its uranium enrichment program is devoted solely to producing fuel for nuclear reactors that generate electricity.
The report, which was released on Monday to the agency's 35-country board of directors and the United Nations Security Council, will be formally discussed by the board at it headquarters in Vienna next week.
By Elaine Sciolino