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U.N.: Iran agrees to answer nuclear questions

Iran's leaders agreed to answer all remaining questions about their country's past nuclear activities within four weeks in talks with the U.N.'s chief nuclear inspector, officials said.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Iran has promised the U.N.’s chief nuclear inspector it will answer all remaining questions about its past nuclear activities within four weeks, including secret activities the U.S. suspects were linked to a weapons program, officials said Sunday.

The time limit was announced by the spokeswoman for Mohamed ElBaradei, chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency, at the end of his talks in Tehran with Iranian leaders.

Iran is under two sets of U.N. Security Council sanctions for its refusal to freeze uranium enrichment, a potential pathway to nuclear arms, and Washington is pushing for additional U.N. penalties.

In Abu Dhabi on Sunday, President Bush said Iran “defies the United Nations and destabilizes the region by refusing to be open and transparent about its nuclear programs and ambitions.” Calling the country the “world’s leading state sponsor of terror,” he urged Arab nations to join with the U.S. to confront the danger “before it’s too late.”

But a recent U.S. intelligence assessment that it probably shut down a clandestine weapons program three years ago have led to increased resistance from permanent Security Council members Russia and China, which have strategic and trade ties with Iran.

The government in Tehran says it never worked on atomic weapons and wants to enrich uranium only to produce fuel for reactors that would generate electricity.

Centrifuges info passed along
ElBaradei also was given new information on Iran’s “new generation of centrifuges” during weekend talks with Iranian leaders, said his spokeswoman, Melissa Fleming. That issue is a priority for the agency as it tries to establish how far advanced Iran is in developing the technology.

Announcing the deadline, Fleming spoke only in general terms, without mentioning what was being now probed by agency experts under a plan agreed to last summer. But diplomats said that investigation was now in its final stage, focusing on programs with possible weapons applications.

The probe originally was slated to be completed in December, and the United States and its allies have been chafing at the delay, say diplomats accredited to the IAEA. But they are unlikely to object publicly if the extension allows ElBaradei to reveal details of such secret programs.

The e-mailed comments by Fleming were issued just a few hours after ElBaradei’s plane touched down in Vienna, ending a two-day visit to Tehran that included unprecedented meetings with both Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

U.N.: Talks went 'very well'
The diplomat said the talks went “very well,” adding that — beyond discussing the progress of his agency’s probe into Iran’s nuclear past — ElBaradei was able to press his case for the need for the country to suspend uranium enrichment, a key U.N. Security Council demand.

Separately, however, a senior diplomat expressed doubt ElBaradei was able to persuade the Iranians to freeze enrichment and noted Western efforts for additional U.N. sanctions against the Islamic republic would continue unless that condition was met. Both spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment publicly on the issue.

A White House spokesman traveling with Bush said that Iran’s agreement to answer questions about its past nuclear activities “is a step, but they still need to suspend their enrichment and reprocessing activity.”

“Another declaration is no substitute for complying with the U.N. sanctions.” Gordon Johndroe said.

In agreeing to the IAEA probe last year, Iran agreed to answer all lingering questions about its past nuclear activities — including those it has evaded since 2003, when nearly 20 years of Iranian clandestine atomic work were revealed.

Diplomats have told the AP that the IAEA probe is now using evidence provided by the U.S. and its close allies to back its allegations, and one said Sunday that the IAEA recently shared some of the formerly classified information with Iran, with Washington’s permission, to aid with the probe.

Among the material is data on a laptop computer reportedly smuggled out of Iran. In 2005, U.S. intelligence said that information suggested that the country had been working details of nuclear weapons, including missile trajectories and ideal altitudes for exploding warheads.

U.S. intelligence was also shared with the agency regarding the “Green Salt Project” — a plan that the U.S. alleges links diverse components of a nuclear weapons program, including uranium enrichment, high explosives testing and a missile re-entry vehicle.

The IAEA is also interested in activities at a former research center at Lavizan-Shian, which Iran razed before allowing agency inspectors access. The center is believed to have been the repository of equipment bought by the Iranian military that could be used in a nuclear weapons program.