updated 3/3/2005 8:42:13 PM ET 2005-03-04T01:42:13

Iran is using reinforced materials and tunneling deep underground to store nuclear components — measures meant to deter “bunker busters” and other special weapons in case of attack, diplomats said Thursday.

The diplomats spoke as a 35-nation meeting of the U.N. atomic watchdog ended more than three days of deliberations focusing on Iran and North Korea.

An agency review read at the meeting faulted Tehran for starting work on the tunnel at Isfahan without informing the International Atomic Energy Agency beforehand.

The review said Iran, following prodding by the IAEA, has in recent months provided “preliminary design information” on the tunnel in the central city that is home to the country’s uranium enrichment program, and said construction began in September “to increase capacity, safety and security of nuclear material.”

Earlier in the meeting, the IAEA also said Iran was ignoring calls to scrap plans for a heavy water reactor and continuing construction. On Thursday, a diplomat described that as no secret, saying satellite imagery had revealed that work at the city of Arak had progressed to the point where crews “were pouring the foundations.”

Experts estimate the Arak reactor can yield enough plutonium from its spent fuel for one bomb a year. Additionally, the nearly 40 tons of uranium Iran partially processed as part of its enrichment program could yield up to five crude bombs.

Bush, Rice weigh in
President Bush on Thursday accused Iran of flouting international accords by secretly trying to make nuclear weapons. “The guilty party is Iran,” Bush said on a visit to CIA headquarters.

“They are the ones who are not living up to international accords,” the president said. “They are the people that the whole world is saying, ’Don’t develop a nuclear weapon.”’

With evident satisfaction, Bush said the Europeans and Russian President Vladimir Putin “feel the same way.” Hinting he would support the allies in offering commercial concessions to Iran to end the program, Bush said, “We’re looking at ways to help move the process forward.”

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, at a news conference, said, “Thus far, the Iranians have shown no indication that they are taking the deal.”

Bush conferred briefly with Rice in the Oval Office on Wednesday, and they held a longer meeting there Thursday.

Iran suspends, for now
Iran has suspended work on its enrichment program pending negotiations with France, Germany and Britain. But it repeatedly has said the freeze is short-term, despite hopes that it will fully scrap its plans.

Asked for details on the tunnel, a diplomat familiar with Iran’s dossier said parts of it apparently would run as deep as half a mile below ground and would be constructed of hardened concrete and other special materials meant to withstand the severest of air attacks.

Other diplomats said such moves were clearly motivated by Iranian concerns of strikes by the United States or Israel, which both accuse Tehran of trying to secretly build nuclear weapons. All the envoys are close to the IAEA and follow Iranian developments, and they spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

Hundreds of bunker busters were used in U.S. airstrikes on hostile fortified underground command centers, living quarters and storage areas in Afghanistan and Iran.

Israel last year said it was buying about 5,000 smart bombs from the United States, including 500 1-ton bunker busters capable of destroying 6-foot-thick concrete walls, fueling speculation of possible preparation for an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Washington waits
While not ruling out the possibility of a U.S. attack, Washington has toned down its rhetoric against Iran. Washington is awaiting the results of European negotiations aimed at getting Tehran to renounce all plans to enrich uranium in exchange for economic concessions and other forms of support — and is even considering backing such incentives.

Uranium enrichment is “dual use” — meaning it can generate fuel for nuclear power as well as form the core of warheads.

President Bush said fears that Washington was preparing an attack were “ridiculous,” but he nonetheless said last week that “all options are on the table.”

Iran links its fear of attack to a decision to bar U.N. nuclear inspectors from some sensitive sites during debate at the Vienna meeting, a gathering of the IAEA board of governors.

Suggesting that leaks could be exploited by Iran’s enemies, senior Iranian envoy Sirous Nasseri said Tehran’s worries about “confidentiality of information” gathered on such visits “are more intense in view of potential threats of military strikes against ... facilities visited by (the) agency.”

Ball ... in Iran’s court,’ IAEA chief says
IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei said the “ball is very much in Iran’s court to come clean” by cooperating to clear lingering suspicions about possible nuclear weapons ambitions.

Still, the agency has not been able to support U.S. assertions that nearly 20 years of Iran’s covert nuclear programs discovered more than two years ago were aimed at making nuclear weapons — not generating electricity, as Tehran claims.

On North Korea, its other main concern, the meeting urged Pyongyang to return to six-party negotiations over its nuclear program and to let the agency return to monitoring its atomic activities.

Concerns over North Korea
The threat represented by North Korea is “a serious challenge ... to peace and stability in Northeast Asia,” and to attempts to control the global spread of nuclear weapons, a board statement said.

In a separate attempt to defuse the North Korean threat, top U.S. and Chinese officials in Seoul discussed tactics meant to lure Pyongyang back to the multiparty talks.

International efforts to bring North Korea back to the talks have gained urgency since Pyongyang’s Feb. 10 claim that it had built nuclear weapons and would boycott international disarmament talks indefinitely.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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