UN Nuclear Chief in Secret Talks with Iran over Deal to End Sanctions
United Nations and Iranian officials have been secretly negotiating a deal to persuade world powers to lift sanctions and allow Tehran to retain the bulk of its nuclear programme in return for co-operation with UN inspectors.
According to a draft document seen by The Times, the 13-point agreement was drawn up in September by Mohamed ElBaradei, the directorgeneral of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), in an effort to break the stalemate over Iran's nuclear programme before he stands down at the end of this month.
The IAEA denied the existence of the document, which was leaked to The Times by one of the parties alarmed at the contents. Its disclosure was made as the agency warned that Iran could be hiding multiple secret nuclear sites.
Despite the assessment, diplomats believed that Mr ElBaradei was hoping to agree the outline of a deal with Tehran that he could present to the US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany as a solution to the impasse.
It was thought that Mr ElBaradei was anxious to secure his legacy after infighting over his perceived weakness in dealing with Iran.
The plan would require the UN Security Council to revoke the three existing sanctions and five resolutions ordering Iran to halt its uranium enrichment - an unthinkable development at a time when the West is focused on how to impose more, not fewer, sanctions on Iran.
Russia and China, who have commercial ties with Iran and have been pressing for a compromise, may see merit in the plan, however.
Hopes of reaching a consensus rose in September with the discovery of a second uranium enrichment plant under construction near Qom, which inspectors were allowed to visit finally last month.
Mr ElBaradei's draft agreement envisaged allowing Iran to maintain and even expand its uranium enrichment programme, albeit under closer IAEA scrutiny, as part of a globally managed nuclear fuel bank. "The sides are to set up an international consortium for uranium enrichment, both in Iran and outside Iran," the document said.
Section ten of the document proposed that if Iran complied with the arrangements, the signatories would report positively to the UN Security Council, where Iran would be rewarded with the lifting of sanctions.
"At first, the sanctions prohibiting the movement of scientists and technicians are to be lifted immediately, as are the sanctions connected to the supply of spare parts for aircraft and other essential activities," it said.
The disclosure coincides with leaks from the report by IAEA inspectors warning of the dangers of taking Iran at its word over its nuclear programme.
The report, to be discussed at Mr ElBaradei's final board of governors meeting next week, warned that Iran may be concealing multiple nuclear plants.
Iran claims that the Qom site was a fallback to preserve its declared peaceful enrichment programme if the Natanz complex was bombed. Inspectors said that Tehran had failed to convince them of its use and had even lied when it was being built. Nuclear experts said that the size of the plant suggested a military use.
Tehran belatedly informed the IAEA of the existence of the plant in September, reportedly after realising that it had been discovered and was being monitored by Western intelligence agencies.
"The agency has indicated that its declaration of the new facility reduces the level of confidence in the absence of other nuclear facilities under construction and gives rise to questions about whether there were any other nuclear facilities not declared to the agency," the report said.
Iran's failure to inform the IAEA of its decision to build or authorise construction of a nuclear facility as soon as the decision was made was inconsistent with its transparency obligations to the UN watchdog, the report by the inspectors said. "Moreover, Iran's delay in submitting such information to the agency does not contribute to the building of confidence."
The report said that Tehran lied when it told the agency that construction began in 2007, when evidence showed that the project had started in 2002 before pausing in 2004 and resuming in 2006.
Inspectors found the Qom site in an advanced state of construction but without centrifuges or nuclear materials. They said that Iran had told the agency it would be started up in 2011.
Western diplomats and nuclear experts said that the planned capacity of the Qom site, 3,000 centrifuges, made little sense as a peaceful enrichment centre because it would be too small to fuel a nuclear power station. It could, however, yield fissile material for one or two atom bombs per year.