A senior Iranian official blamed the U.S. Sunday for Tehran's refusal to respond to accusations it tried to make nuclear weapons, claiming information provided by Washington was not only fake but came too late for a proper review.
The U.S. dismissed the complaint, saying Iran could have answered concerns about its nuclear program years ago.
Ali Ashgar Soltanieh, Iran's chief delegate to the International Atomic Energy Agency, also acknowledged that his country's uranium enrichment program was experiencing "ups and downs." It appeared to be the first time Iran has admitted its enrichment activities were running into some difficulties.
The U.N. has imposed three sets of sanctions on Iran for its refusal to suspend enrichment, a process that can generate nuclear fuel and the fissile core of warheads. Iran says it is pursuing the technology only to produce nuclear power.
‘One major ... unsolved issue’
The International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear monitor, released a report last week saying that suspicions about most past Iranian nuclear activities had eased or been laid to rest.
But the report also noted that Iran had rejected documents that link it to missile and explosives experiments and other work connected to a possible nuclear weapons program, calling the information false and irrelevant.
The report called weaponization "the one major ... unsolved issue relevant to the nature of Iran's nuclear program."
Most of the material shown to Iran by the IAEA on alleged attempts to make nuclear arms came from Washington, though some was provided by U.S. allies, diplomats told The Associated Press. The agency shared it with Tehran only after the nations gave their permission.
But Soltanieh dismissed much of the material as false. In any case, he said, it came too late _ three years after U.S. intelligence claimed it had material on a laptop computer smuggled out of Iran indicating that Tehran had been working on details of nuclear weapons, including missile trajectories and ideal altitudes for exploding warheads.
"They should have given it to us three years ago," Soltanieh said of the U.S. material, suggesting Tehran would then have had a more substantive response.
Instead, he said, Iran did not get an offer for a review until mid-February. By that time, he said, the deadline for the conclusion of the IAEA investigation into Iran's nuclear past had passed and experts were already working on the agency's report.
"All of a sudden, the Americans notice this thing is going to be closed," he told the AP, alluding to the investigation. "So ... suddenly ... they have additional and new documents _ these dirty games should be stopped immediately."
U.S. counters Iran's claims
The United States denied being at fault.
"Iran did not need to wait for information to answer" the accusations coming from many sides that it was trying to make nuclear arms, said Gregory L. Schulte, the top U.S. delegate to the IAEA.
"Iranian authorities could have started explaining these activities years ago, if only they had made the decision to come fully clean about their program," he told AP.
Soltanieh acknowledged that Iranian experts also were offered some U.S. documents earlier than mid-February. But, he said, "we weren't allowed to take them out of the room," dooming any serious attempt to examine them.
"Some of the drawings were lousy and without any technical justification," he said, dismissing the material as "fabricated and (a) forgery."
Iranian leader demands apology
On Saturday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called on the U.S. and its allies to "apologize" for accusing Iran of seeking nuclear weapons. He asserted that the IAEA report vindicated his country and warned that Iran would take unspecified "decisive reciprocal measures" against any country that imposed additional sanctions against his nation.
The IAEA report also confirmed that Iran was defying U.N. Security Council demands that it suspend uranium enrichment.
But it suggested possible technical problems, noting Iran had not expanded its main enrichment project for months, keeping its number of centrifuges, which turn out enriched uranium, at 3,000. Former U.N. nuclear inspector David Albright, in his own report mailed to the AP, said the small amounts of enriched uranium produced over the past year "indicate that the centrifuges continue to operate below capacity."
Ahmadinejad and other Iranian leaders have depicted Tehran's enrichment program as a triumph had dismissed suggestions of technical glitches coming from U.S. intelligence, IAEA officials and independent experts.
Soltanieh also asserted that Iran was "a master of enrichment technology." Still, he acknowledged that "during the process of development, there will be ups and downs and trials and errors."
"The important thing is ultimate success," he said.