Image: Uranium enrichment facility
Vahid Salemi  /  AP file
The Natanz uranium enrichment facility, about 200 miles south of the capital, Tehran, is being used as a pilot uranium-enrichment plant, according to U.N. investigators.
updated 2/28/2006 7:45:01 AM ET 2006-02-28T12:45:01

A report by the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency shows there is no proof Iran’s nuclear program is aimed at producing nuclear weapons, Iran’s foreign minister said Tuesday in Japan.

“They could not find evidence which shows that Iran has diverted from its peaceful purposes of nuclear activities in Iran,” said Manouchehr Mottaki, who was in Tokyo to meet with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

A confidential International Atomic Energy Agency report made available to The Associated Press Monday said that a more than three-year probe has not revealed “any diversion of nuclear material to nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.”

But it also said that because of lack of sufficient cooperation from the Iranian side, the agency remains unable “to conclude that there are no undeclared nuclear materials or activities in Iran.” The report suggested that unless Iran drastically increases its cooperation, the IAEA would not be able to establish whether past clandestine activities were focused on making nuclear arms.

The report, prepared by IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei for a March 6 meeting of the agency’s 35-nation board of governors, could help determine what action the U.N. Security Council will take against Iran, which says its nuclear program is intended solely for peaceful purposes.

The IAEA decided at a Feb. 4 meeting to report Tehran to the council over concerns it might be seeking nuclear arms. But further action was deferred until the end of next week’s meeting at the insistence of veto-wielding council members Russia and China, which have close economic and political ties with Iran.

Mottaki said Iran had a right to nuclear technology for peaceful purposes and is committed not to build nuclear weapons.

“Iran also, like Japan, enjoys its right to have nuclear technology for peaceful purposes,” Mottaki told reporters after talks with Koizumi. “We are against nuclear weapons.”

However, the IAEA report said Iran plans to start setting up thousands of uranium enriching centrifuges this year even as it negotiates with Russia on scrapping such domestic activity — a possible pathway to nuclear arms.

Russia dampened hopes of a deal with Iran on Monday, saying Tehran must first freeze its domestic uranium enrichment, something Iran has refused to do.

In an interview with Kyodo News Agency, Mottaki said Iran will not stop uranium enrichment even if it accepts Russia’s offer for a joint enrichment venture.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin told the Interfax news agency he expected talks with Iran to resume in the coming days.

The Russian offer to host Iran’s uranium enrichment program has been backed by the United States and the European Union as a way to provide more guarantees that Tehran’s atomic program cannot be diverted to build weapons.

But the IAEA report showed Iran pressing ahead with enrichment at home by going from testing a lone centrifuge — a machine that spins uranium gas into enriched uranium — to introducing the gas into 10 centrifuges and beginning enrichment between Feb. 11 and Feb 15.

Furthermore, said the report, Iran began final maintenance of an additional 20 centrifuges a week ago, reflecting determination to further expand enrichment.

That would leave Iran still far short of the thousands of centrifuges it needs to enrich substantial amounts of uranium. Still, it reflected the country’s plans to forge ahead with domestic enrichment even as it talks with Moscow.

And just a few months down the road, “commencement of the installation of the first 3,000 ... (centrifuges) is planned for the fourth quarter of 2006,” said the report.

Experts estimate that Iran already has enough black-market components in storage to build the 1,500 operating centrifuges it would need to make the 45 pounds of highly enriched uranium needed for one crude weapon.

Iran appears determined to expand its uranium enrichment program — a key international concern because of fears it could eventually make nuclear weapons, the International Atomic Energy Agency said in a new report Monday.

The U.N. watchdog, in a confidential report made available to The Associated Press, said Iran plans to start setting up thousands of uranium enriching centrifuges this year even as it negotiates with Russia on scrapping such domestic activity.

The report said Iran began final maintenance of an additional 20 centrifuges a week ago, reflecting determination to further expand enrichment.

The IAEA also suggested that unless Iran drastically increases its cooperation, the agency would not be able to establish whether past clandestine activities were focused on making nuclear arms.

The report, prepared by IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei for a March 6 meeting of the agency’s 35-nation board of governors, could help determine what action the U.N. Security Council will take against Iran, which says its nuclear program is intended solely for peaceful purposes.

A Feb. 4 board meeting already reported Tehran to the council over concerns it might be seeking nuclear arms. But further action was deferred until the end of next week’s meeting on the insistence of veto-wielding council members Russia and China, which have close economic and political ties with the Islamic Republic.

No conclusions on nuclear activities
The 11-page report emphasized that a more than three-year probe has not revealed “any diversion of nuclear material to nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.”

Still, it declared that — because of lack of sufficient cooperation from the Iranian side — the IAEA remained unable “to conclude that there are no undeclared nuclear materials or activities in Iran.”

The finding was essentially an admission that the agency cannot establish whether Iran is hiding aspects of its nuclear program that it is obligated to report to the IAEA, the U.N. atomic watchdog, under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

The evidence of Iran’s intention to embark on full-scale uranium enrichment appeared to jibe with news of lack of progress in talks between Moscow and Tehran meant to move Iran’s nuclear enrichment program to Russia, thereby defusing concerns it might be misused to make nuclear warheads instead of fuel. Iran's nuclear network

Earlier in the day, Russian officials played down reports of a deal in principle on the Russian proposal, reminding Tehran it must freeze its domestic uranium enrichment.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the Kremlin proposal to set up a joint uranium enrichment facility on Russian soil was contingent on Iran’s agreeing to such a freeze — something Tehran has so far refused to do.

“It seems there has been no decisive progress,” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said. And Adam Ereli, the deputy U.S. State Department spokesman, described news of agreement as “more chaff being thrown up by the Iranians ahead of the Board of Governors meeting” next week.

Support for Russia's offer
The United States and the European Union have backed the Russian offer to host Iran’s uranium enrichment program.

But the report made available Monday showed Iran pressing ahead with enrichment at home by going from testing a lone centrifuge — a machine that spins uranium gas into enriched uranium — to introducing the gas into 10 centrifuges and beginning enrichment between Feb. 11 and Feb 15.

Furthermore, said the report, Iran began final maintenance of an additional 20 centrifuges a week ago, reflecting determination to further expand enrichment.

That would leave Iran still far short of the thousands of centrifuges it needs to enrich substantial amounts of uranium. Still, it reflected the country’s plans to forge ahead with domestic enrichment even as it talks with Moscow.

And just a few months down the road, “commencement of the installation of the first 3,000 ... (centrifuges) is planned for the fourth quarter of 2006,” said the report.

Experts estimate that Iran already has enough black-market components in storage to build the 1,500 operating centrifuges it would need to make the 45 pounds of highly enriched uranium needed for one crude weapon.

The report also repeated appeals for Iran to cooperate that have been a staple of the more than a dozen documents produced by ElBaradei on the status of the probe into Tehran’s nuclear program.

Detailing some of Iran’s foot dragging over the past month, as well as new findings of concern, the report said:

  • “Iran again declined to provide” a copy of a document located earlier by IAEA inspectors showing how to cast fissile uranium into the shape to fit a warhead.
  • There were “inconsistencies” in tests of plutonium isotopes provided to the agency to help it look into plutonium separation experiments in the mid-1990s, suggesting that not all plutonium had been accounted for.
  • Iran dismissed information based on U.S. intelligence documenting links between the so-called “Green Salt Project” — a precursor of uranium enrichment — with nuclear-related high explosives and warhead design as “based on false and fabricated documents.”

“It is regrettable and a matter of concern that the ... uncertainties related to the scope of nature of Iran’s nuclear program have not been clarified after three years of intensive agency verification,” said the report.

“Without full transparency ... the agency’s ability to reconstruct the history of Iran’s past program and verify the correctness and completeness of statements made by Iran ... will be limited and questions about the past and current direction of Iran’s nuclear program will continue to be raised.”

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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