UN nuclear watchdog finalising report on Iran

The United Nations atomic watchdog was on Friday finalising a report expected to say that Iran has failed to suspend nuclear fuel work and which could trigger UN Security Council sanctions over fears Tehran is developing nuclear weapons, diplomats said.

“As far as we know, they have not suspended [nuclear fuel work] until this moment in time,” a diplomat close to the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said on Friday, adding no one expected any last-minute changes in Iran’s position.

European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana said on Thursday in Britain that the EU is “ready to go to the Security Council” for possible sanctions if Iran failed to heed an IAEA call to stop work on making atomic power-reactor fuel that could also be used to make weapons.

The IAEA’s 35-nation board of governors had made the call on August 11 and charged IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei with reporting to it by September 3 on Iranian compliance.

ElBaradei’s report was being reviewed in a final draft at IAEA headquarters and was set to be filed to board members on either Friday or Saturday, diplomats said.

Iran’s resumption in early August of uranium-conversion fuel work, which it had broken off last November to start talks with the EU on guaranteeing its nuclear programme is peaceful, has scuttled the negotiations and could lead to Iran being referred to the Security Council when the IAEA board meets on September 19 in Vienna.

A diplomat close to the IAEA, who asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of the subject, said the report details uranium-conversion work Iran is doing at a facility in Isfahan, with exact measurements of quantities involved.

Conversion makes uranium gas, which is then run through cascades of centrifuges to produce enriched uranium, which can be fuel for civilian power reactors or, in highly refined form, the explosive core of atom bombs.

A second diplomat said the report confirms Iran’s claim that it is not doing enrichment work at its plant in Natanz, and so is doing only conversion, the first part of the enrichment process.

Meanwhile, in what looks like a victory for Tehran, the IAEA has concluded that highly enriched uranium (HEU) particles found at several sites in Iran were from imported equipment and not from Iran’s own activities, with a review of the data by United States and other experts apparently confirming this, the diplomats said.

But the second diplomat said the report will be careful to say that the conclusion that the HEU contamination was from abroad, namely Pakistan—although Pakistan will not be mentioned by name—will only be presented as “plausible”.

The diplomat said questions remain about low-enriched-uranium particles that were found and which are below weapons-grade.

The IAEA has since February 2003 been investigating Iran on US charges that the Islamic Republic, which says its nuclear programme is a peaceful effort to generate electricity, is secretly developing atomic weapons.

ElBaradei has said his agency has so far confirmed Iranian declarations about its nuclear activities but that this does not mean there are not undeclared activities and that “the jury is still out” on whether Iran’s programme is peaceful.

Little progress is expected to be reported in resolving another main issue, that of Iran’s work with sophisticated P-2 centrifuges, which make the enrichment process easier.

The IAEA has expressed scepticism about Iran’s claims to have done little work with the P-2s, as Tehran has had blueprints for them “from foreign sources” since 1995, according to an IAEA report last November.

The new report will also cover suspicious Iranian work with plutonium, another atom-bomb material, but the second diplomat said there is “no smoking gun” proving that Iran has actually separated out plutonium for weapons work.

“There is nothing in the report that will strangle the Iranians,” the diplomat said.

But the US has been lobbying intensively with IAEA board members to say that Iran’s history of 18 years of hidden nuclear activities is “most consistent with an intent to acquire nuclear weapons”, according to a copy of a US briefing presentation obtained by news agency AFP.—Sapa-AFP

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