Iran 'failing to come clean on weapons'

Posted in Iran | 15-Jun-04 | Author: Ian Traynor| Source: Guardian

The director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mohamed ElBaradei, opens the annual board meeting of the UN organization in Vienna.
The UN's chief nuclear inspector, Mohamed ElBaradei, voiced his exasperation yesterday at the slow pace of the international inquiry into Iran's nuclear programme.

He contradicted Iran's assertions that it was cooperating fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency and declared that the jury was still out on whether Iran was building a nuclear bomb.

Opening a session of the 35-strong IAEA board in Vienna, the sixth consecutive such board meeting in 15 months to focus on Iran's nuclear ambitions, Mr ElBaradei showed impatience with Tehran's brinkmanship and blocking tactics. "We can't go on for ever," he complained, accusing it of refusing to disclose the full extent of its uranium enrichment activities, despite more than a year of UN inspections of its facilities. He also said Iran had not yet satisfactorily explained traces of enriched uranium found last year on its equipment by the inspectors.

The board meeting, expected to last at least three days, came after the submission of a 21-page report by Mr ElBaradei in which he cited fresh evidence that Iran had embarked on an illicit uranium enrichment project which could produce bomb-grade nuclear fuel.

Since that report two weeks ago, the IAEA inspectors have come up with further signs of an advanced programme to enrich uranium.

At a closed meeting of diplomats and IAEA officials last week, one of the agency's most senior investigators revealed that Iran had approached an unnamed European middleman with a view to purchasing "tens of thousands" of components for centrifuge rigs used to refine uranium. The components were for so-called "P-2" centrifuges, a more advanced system that Iran has only recently admitted developing, while insisting that the P-2 programme was small-scale for research purposes. "That indicates this is much more advanced than university research," said an informed western diplomat. "That's P-2-plus."

Mr ElBaradei said yesterday that Iran had provided "changing and at times contradictory" explanations on the P-2 programme to the inspectors, who only in recent weeks unearthed new evidence to fuel their suspicions.

"We still have a central issue and that is whether Iran has declared all its enrichment activities," Mr ElBaradei said.

Iran insists that the outstanding questions are minor issues, and hardliners are threatening to break off cooperation with the IAEA and refuse it the kind of intrusive and short-notice inspections Iran is currently allowing, unless the Iranian nuclear issue is given a lower profile.

But there is little chance that will happen. A highly critical resolution being debated by the board and drafted by the EU troika of Britain, Germany, and France states that the board "decides to remain seized of the matter".

But the EU document criticising Iran contains no deadline or trigger for sanctions if Tehran does not meet the demands laid out. The Americans are said to be calling for tougher wording and some kind of deadline.

"We've pitched this one at the right level for a consensus to emerge," said a European diplomat.