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Iran gives UN nuclear agency documents
Updated: 2005-10-21 10:46

Diplomats and officials said Thursday that Iran has handed over sensitive documents to U.N. nuclear inspectors and allowed them to question a senior official about activities that could fuel atomic weapons — concessions that may thwart U.S. efforts to bring Tehran before the Security Council.

At issue is how much centrifuge and related technology Iran received from the nuclear black market starting in the 1980s and where that equipment is.

There are suspicions that part of the technology, which can enrich uranium either to low-grade fuel or the fissile core for nuclear warheads, has not been declared to the International Atomic Energy Agency and has been used by the military to make bombs.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Mohamed ElBaradei is seen in Vienna, October 7, 2005.
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Mohamed ElBaradei is seen in Vienna, October 7, 2005.[Reuters/file]
The IAEA hoped that Iran's decision to cooperate with inspectors over the enrichment program would help the probe into those suspicions, the diplomats and officials told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the information was confidential.

A U.S. official familiar with the issue said Iran was making "important concessions" in handing over the documents and allowing the interview after nearly two years of stalling.

But Tehran still had not met other demands, including giving access to military sites identified by Washington as possibly being used for weapons-related experiments, the official said.

For the Americans, Iran's cooperation is a mixed blessing. It blunts the U.S. effort to have the Islamic republic referred to the Security Council as soon as next month by weakening the argument that Iran was not cooperating with the IAEA inquiry. The Security Council could impose sanctions if it determines that Iran violated the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, although that is unlikely because veto-wielding China and Russia oppose referral.

That effort seemed on track several weeks ago. The IAEA board last month declared Iran in violation of the nuclear arms-control treaty, opening the way to Security Council referral when the 35-nation board meets Nov. 24.

But the chances of referral started foundering even before Iran agreed last week to provide documents and access to the IAEA official.

The diplomats and officials said Beijing and Moscow still oppose referral. Also, the addition of anti-American nations like Cuba, Belarus and Syria to the IAEA board hurts U.S. efforts.

One diplomat accredited to the agency said both Washington and London, a key supporter of Security Council involvement, were reassessing their positions.

"They're now saying that if Iran does not engage in any further 'provocation' the issue will not go to" the Security Council, the diplomat said.

The U.S. official suggested that Washington and its allies may even tolerate Iran's continued uranium conversion — a precursor to enrichment — even though that conversion precipitated the IAEA board vote.

The resumption of conversion scuttled talks between Iran and France, Britain and Germany on reducing suspicions about Tehran's nuclear ambitions and led the European nations to support the U.S. push for Security Council action.

The Americans and their allies suspect Tehran's nuclear activities — undetected for nearly two decades before 2002 — is a front for weapons ambitions. Iran says it is interested only in generating electricity.

Given all the factors, any renewed push to refer Iran to the Security Council at next month's IAEA meeting is "going to be very difficult," the U.S. official said. Last week's intense lobbying by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Moscow "did not break any new ground," the official said.

One diplomat said Iran's new willingness to cooperate — agreed to last week during a visit by Olli Heinonen, an IAEA deputy secretary general — seemed to be calculated to blunt the threat of referral.

Another diplomat close to the IAEA cautioned that Iran's decision may not help clear up suspicions about the existence of a secret military enrichment program.

"There is still much to learn," he said.

Former agency officials also warned against setting expectations too high, with one saying IAEA questioning of Iranian officials was never done individually, and the Iranian interviewed probably was briefed by superiors on what to divulge.

Those speaking to the AP declined to divulge the identity of the Iranian interviewed by Heinonen and the contents of documents given the inspector, saying that could prompt Iran to stop cooperating.

Underpinning suspicions about a secret military enrichment program are Tehran's previous declarations that the nuclear black market offered Iranian officials P-1 centrifuge designs in 1987 and 1994.

The agency also questions Iran's claim that, although the nation received designs for the more advanced P-2 centrifuge in 1995, it did not start development until 2002. That, say experts with former links to the agency, may suggest secret military work that has not been declared.

In a report last month, IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei declared that Iran did "not yet provide sufficient assurance that no related activities were carried out during that period."

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