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Atomic energy chief: Iran too secretive

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency said Monday his organization cannot be sure that Iran is not secretly working on nuclear arms, in comments reflecting disappointment with the collapse of talks between Tehran and six world powers.
Yukiya Amano
Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, Yukiya Amano from Japan speaks during an interview with the Associated Press on Monday.Ronald Zak / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency said Monday his organization cannot be sure that Iran is not secretly working on nuclear arms, in comments reflecting disappointment with the collapse of talks between Tehran and six world powers.

That meeting ended Saturday with the six failing to persuade Iran to dispel fears of such covert activity by allowing increased IAEA monitoring of its nuclear programs — leaving the U.N. agency short of applying all inspecting instruments it says it should have a right to.

"Cooperation is not sufficient" by Iran, IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano told The Associated Press. "We cannot provide ... assurance on the absence of (undeclared) nuclear activities or the exclusively peaceful nature of all the nuclear activities of Iran."

Expectations had been low for the Istanbul meeting. So the six powers — the U.S., China, Russia, Britain France and Germany — had avoided too much emphasis on their main demand: an end to uranium enrichment, as called for by the U.N. Security Council.

Iran's enrichment program is of international interest because the process can create both nuclear fuel and fissile nuclear warhead material. While Iran insists it wants to enrich uranium only to run a nuclear reactor network, its nuclear secrecy, refusal to accept fuel from abroad and resistance to IAEA efforts to follow up on suspicions of covert experiments with components of a nuclear weapons program have heightened concerns.

Defiant of sanctions
Despite four sets of U.N. sanctions Iran insists it will never give up its right to enrich uranium. Since it resumed the process four years ago, it has amassed enough low-enriched material for more than two bombs, should it choose to enrich its uranium to weapons-grade levels.

Separately, it has amassed more than 40 kilograms (nearly 90 pounds) of higher-enriched uranium, which would take less time to turn into weapons grade material, should Iran decide to do so.

Because of Iran's rejection of talks on enrichment, Iran's interlocutors instead had come to the table with more modest hopes, including seeking concessions from Tehran as to what it was ready to show IAEA inspectors.

The problem is less about monitoring facilities and activities that Iran has declared to the agency and more about concerns that the Islamic Republic might be hiding other nuclear work and denying the IAEA the right to search for them.

"We maintain knowledge on Iranian enrichment activities and other nuclear activities which are declared," Amano said. But, he said, "our knowledge is limited to which we have the access."

That would include the central Natanz enrichment plant, where thousands of centrifuges churn out material that Iran says it will use as reactor fuel but which can also be reworked to make the core of nuclear warheads. Remote cameras and on site inspections are meant to make sure no material is diverted for possible weapons use, and IAEA officials say the agency is content with its overview at Natanz.

Access restricted
The IAEA also has sufficient access to the Bushehr reactor built with Russian help that is to go on line later this year and the Isfahan uranium conversion plant making gas feedstock that is then enriched at Natanz.

But Tehran has restricted IAEA access to its reactor site at Arak, which — once completed — will be able to produce plutonium, which can also be used to arm nuclear warheads.

And it revealed a nearly finished enrichment facility at Qom in 2009 to the IAEA just days before the U.S. and Britain went public with intelligence on its existence, feeding concern that it had planned to keep it secret and worry of other undeclared nuclear work elsewhere.

"The facility at Qom was brought to our attention at quite a late stage of construction," said Amano. "We also hear from a high level of Iranian authorities that they have plans of constructing (other) enrichment plants, but we don't have particular information."

Such lack of transparency means that "we cannot provide an assurance of the absence of undeclared activities and facilities," said Amano.

Iran also refuses to cooperate with an IAEA probe of U.S. and other intelligence reports that it worked on nuclear weapons programs, dismissing them as falsifications and asserting that the agency is overstepping its bounds — something Amano denied.

"We have the mandate to have clarification on these issues," Amano said, citing U.N. Security Council resolutions urging Iran to cooperate with the agency on clearing up the allegations.