Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Iran Sending Mixed Signals About Nukes

The Guardian:

Wednesday November 2, 2005


Associated Press Writer

VIENNA, Austria (AP) - Iran is sending conflicting signals to an international community concerned about its nuclear agenda, granting U.N. inspectors access to a secret military site but also saying it would process a new batch of uranium that could be used to make atomic weapons, diplomats said Wednesday.

The two developments showed that Iran was unwilling to meet international calls to give up enrichment and all linked activities even while casting itself as conciliatory and ready to cooperate with International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors probing its past nuclear activities.

The last meeting of the 35-nation IAEA board told Iran in September to suspend all uranium enrichment-related activities, including conversion, and to give agency experts access to research, experts, locations and documents or face referral to the U.N. Security Council.

Iran has stopped at conversion but insists it has the right to the next stage - enrichment. Uranium enrichment can produce either nuclear energy or the fissile core of weapons.

The diplomats said IAEA experts were allowed to revisit the high-security military site in Parchin as they try to establish whether Tehran has a secret nuclear weapons program.

Parchin has been linked by the United States and other nations to alleged experiments linked to nuclear arms. The IAEA had for months been trying to follow up on a visit in January for further checks of buildings and areas within the sprawling military complex as it looks for traces of radioactivity.

That visit - which was closely controlled by authorities - revealed no such traces. But one of the diplomats - who like the others requested anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media about the sensitive investigation - said that over the past few days IAEA inspectors ``gained access to buildings'' previously out of bounds to them.

The diplomat, who is close to the agency, said environmental swipes were taken from objects in the buildings and would be analyzed at IAEA laboratories.

If those swipes reveal minute amounts of radioactivity, they would strengthen suspicions of nuclear-related work at Parchin.

Because Parchin is run by the country's armed forces, such a discovery would weaken Iranian arguments that its nuclear programs are strictly nonmilitary.

That, in turn, would strengthen sentiment that Tehran be referred to the Security Council for breaching the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty as early as Nov. 24, when the IAEA board of governors has scheduled its next meeting. The swipe results are expected before then.

U.S. intelligence officials said last year that a specially secured site on the Parchin complex, about 20 miles southeast of Tehran, may be used in research on nuclear arms, specifically in making high-explosive components for use in such weapons. On Wednesday, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said military action against Iran was not being considered, but he said Tehran must change course.

``Nobody is talking about military threats or invasion of Iran or any of the rest of it,'' Blair told the House of Commons. He added that Iran's government ``has got to understand that the international community simply will not put up with their continued breach of the proper and normal standards of behavior that we expected from a member of the United Nations.''

The IAEA has not found any firm evidence to challenge Iranian assertions that its military is not involved in nuclear activities, but in a document last year expressed concern about reports ``relating to dual use equipment and materials which have applications ... in the nuclear military area.'' Diplomats said that phrasing alluded to Parchin.

Before the next board meeting, IAEA inspectors also hope to be allowed to visit Lavizan-Shian, suspected of being the repository of equipment bought by its military that could be used in a nuclear weapons program.

The State Department last year said Lavizan-Shian's buildings had been dismantled and topsoil had been removed from the site in attempts to hide nuclear-weapons related experiments.

Agency officials subsequently confirmed that the site had been razed, but Iran said work at the site, on the outskirts of Tehran, was part of construction unrelated to military or nuclear matters.

Iran is under increasing pressure before the next IAEA board meeting to show it is cooperating with an agency probe of nearly 18 years of suspected clandestine nuclear activities as Tehran tries to derail a U.S.-backed European push to report it to the Security Council.

Russia and China - council members who also sit on the IAEA board - oppose such a move. But Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's calls last week for Israel to be ``wiped off the map'' have strengthened the U.S.-European hand.

Russia was among the dozens of nations protesting his statements.


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