Iran Ducking Scrutiny of Alleged Nuclear-Weapon Studies, IAEA Says

(Aug. 28) -A technician works at Iran's Isfahan uranium conversion plant in 2007. The International Atomic Energy Agency today called on Tehran to more concretely address documents indicating it has conducted nuclear-weapon development efforts (Behrouz Mehri/Getty Images).
(Aug. 28) -A technician works at Iran's Isfahan uranium conversion plant in 2007. The International Atomic Energy Agency today called on Tehran to more concretely address documents indicating it has conducted nuclear-weapon development efforts (Behrouz Mehri/Getty Images).

WASHINGTON -- Evidence of Iran's alleged nuclear-weapon design research "is sufficiently comprehensive and detailed" that Tehran must further substantiate claims that it was falsified, International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei said today in a report to the agency's 35-nation governing board (see GSN, Aug. 27).

The information, provided to the agency by Western nations, includes computer files and other records purported to document nuclear-weapon research undertaken by the Middle Eastern state, including high-explosives experiments relevant to nuclear-weapon detonation as well as efforts to modify the Iranian Shahab missile to accommodate a nuclear warhead. Tehran has denounced the documents as forgeries.

According to the IAEA report, the information "appears to have been derived from multiple sources over different periods of time, appears to be generally consistent, and is sufficiently comprehensive and detailed that it needs to be addressed by Iran with a view to removing the doubts which naturally arise, in light of all of the outstanding issues, about the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program."

Iran has not "adequately addressed the substance of the issues, having focused instead on the style and form of presentation of the written documents relevant to the alleged studies and providing limited answers or simple denials in response to other questions," ElBaradei added.

The report urges Tehran to provide more "substantive responses" to agency concerns and to move toward granting inspectors access to "persons, information and locations identified in the documents in order for the agency to be able to confirm Iran’s assertion that these documents are false and fabricated."

It says, though, that "constraints placed by some member states on the availability of information to Iran are making it more difficult for the agency to conduct detailed discussions with Iran on this matter."

The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany are expected to discuss the report on Sept. 2 as they consider whether to punish Iran again over its refusal to halt uranium enrichment, according to Reuters. Three rounds of sanctions have already been issued.

Iran's nuclear program will also undoubtedly be a central topic of discussion at IAEA Board of Governors and General Conference meetings scheduled for next month.

Iran has slightly reduced its rate of uranium enrichment even as it increased the capacity of its Natanz enrichment site, adding roughly 1,000 centrifuges to the site that remain nonoperational, according to the report. That brings the total number of centrifuges at the facility to 8,308, Reuters reported. The number of operational machines has actually dropped by roughly 400 from the nearly 5,000 in use when the last IAEA report was issued. One source told the news service that the off-line centrifuges were undergoing repairs or tune-ups.

The Middle Eastern state insists that the enrichment effort is geared strictly toward producing low-enriched uranium for fueling nuclear power reactors, but the United States and other Western nations have expressed concern that Tehran might tap the capability to produce nuclear-weapon material.

Iran placed 7,942 kilograms of uranium hexafluoride in its uranium enrichment centrifuges between Nov. 18, 2008, and the end of July, yielding 669 kilograms of low-enriched material. The nation also fed small amounts of uranium hexafluoride into two experimental high-speed centrifuge cascades as well as experimental next-generation machines.

Tehran has failed to implement the Additional Protocol to its safeguards agreement with the U.N. nuclear watchdog, which would allow for more intrusive inspections of Iranian nuclear sites, ElBaradei stated in the report.

"It is critical for Iran to implement the Additional Protocol and clarify the outstanding issues in order for the agency to be in a position to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran," his report states.

The report does not address claims that ElBaradei has withheld information that might more clearly point to an Iranian nuclear-weapon program. Agency spokesman Marc Vidricaire, though, issued a brief statement on the matter.

"Regrettably, time and again unidentified sources feed the media and Member States with misinformation or misinterpretation," Vidricaire said. "This time around, there are articles claiming that the Secretariat is hiding information, and that there are sharp disagreements among staff members involved about the contents of the report. Needless to say, such allegations have no basis in fact."

August 28, 2009
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WASHINGTON -- Evidence of Iran's alleged nuclear-weapon design research "is sufficiently comprehensive and detailed" that Tehran must further substantiate claims that it was falsified, International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei said today in a report to the agency's 35-nation governing board (see GSN, Aug. 27).

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