Iran Nuclear NewsMonitoring agency praises U.S. report, but keeps wary eye...

Monitoring agency praises U.S. report, but keeps wary eye on Iran


New York Times: The International Atomic Energy Agency on Tuesday publicly embraced the new American intelligence assessment stating that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons effort, but in truth the agency is taking a more cautious approach in drawing conclusions about Iran’s nuclear program. The New York Times

Published: December 5, 2007

PARIS, Dec. 4 — The International Atomic Energy Agency on Tuesday publicly embraced the new American intelligence assessment stating that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons effort, but in truth the agency is taking a more cautious approach in drawing conclusions about Iran’s nuclear program.

“To be frank, we are more skeptical,” a senior official close to the agency said. “We don’t buy the American analysis 100 percent. We are not that generous with Iran.”

The official called the American assertion that Iran had “halted” its weapons program in 2003 “somewhat surprising.”

That the nuclear watchdog agency based in Vienna is sounding a somewhat tougher line than the Bush administration is surprising, given that the administration has long criticized it for not pressuring Iran hard enough to curb its nuclear program.

But the American finding has so unsettled governments, agencies and officials dealing with Iran that it has suddenly upended commonly held assumptions.

There is relief, as one senior French official put it, that “the war option is off the table.” There is also criticism and even anger in some quarters that the American intelligence assessment may be too soft on Iran.

Israel, for example, on Tuesday took a darker view of Iran’s nuclear ambitions than the American assessment, saying that it is convinced that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons and that it has probably resumed the weapons program the Americans said was stopped in autumn 2003.

The British government said the international community should maintain pressure on Iran over its uranium enrichment efforts. “It confirms we were right to be worried about Iran seeking to develop nuclear weapons,” a spokesman for Prime Minister Gordon Brown told reporters. He said the American assessment had also shown that past international pressure on Iran had succeeded “in that they seem to have abandoned the weaponization element.”

He added, “But it also tells us the intent was there, and that the risk of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons remains a serious problem.” That, he said, justified maintaining pressure on the Tehran government to abandon efforts to enrich uranium and to reprocess spent nuclear fuel, processes that could provide fissile material for nuclear weapons.

Iran’s foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, told state-run radio that Iran welcomed the change of opinion about its nuclear program. “Some of the same countries which had questions or ambiguities about our nuclear program are changing their views realistically,” he said.

A spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, Mohammad Ali Hosseini, said the report showed that American accusations about Iran’s secret weapons activities were baseless, reported ISNA, the Iranian student news agency.

“This report can be good news for U.S. allies so that they would change their unreasonable policies,” he said, ISNA reported.

The International Atomic Energy Agency’s public stance, and the main message of Mohamed ElBaradei, the director general, was to praise the new finding as proof that his agency had been right in its analysis.

The American assessment “tallies with the agency’s consistent statements over the last few years that — although Iran still needs to clarify some important aspects of its past and present nuclear activities — the agency has no concrete evidence of an ongoing nuclear weapons program or undeclared nuclear facilities in Iran,” Dr. ElBaradei said in a statement.

He said the American intelligence assessment “should help to defuse the current crisis.”

But the agency has been frustrated by shrinking access for its inspectors in Iran, and Dr. ElBaradei also called on Iran to “accelerate its cooperation,” adding that the new American finding “should prompt Iran to work actively with the I.A.E.A. to clarify specific aspects of its past and present nuclear program.” He urged Iran to allow more intrusive inspections of its facilities.

Inside the agency, officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity under normal diplomatic rules, said that Iran must not assume that the American report relieves it of pressure to work with the agency, and that the country must do more to prove its good will.

“We are still worried about certain aspects of Iran’s nuclear program, and we need answers, particularly about so-called military aspects of the program,” said the senior official close to the agency.

Dr. ElBaradei’s most recent report to his agency’s 35-country board last month is less categorical in its conclusions than the American finding.

The agency acknowledged there were still “outstanding issues” regarding the scope and nature of the nuclear enrichment facility at Natanz and activities that could have military applications, Dr. ElBaradei said.

The American analysis twice describes the Natanz enrichment program as civilian, and omits the administration’s oft-cited analysis that there is no logical application for enriched uranium other than eventual military use. Referring to the finding’s characterization of uranium enrichment, the official allied with the international agency said, “We wouldn’t go that far.”

The official also refused to rule out the possibility that Iran might have programs involving centrifuges — the machines that spin enriched uranium — that it had not disclosed to the agency.

The agency plans to use the new assessment’s revelation that Iran had a nuclear weapons program in the past to pry more information out of it about its suspicious past activities.

“If they had a weapons program, they better tell us now,” the official said. “We need to know where they ended up with their program before they terminated it.”

John F. Burns contributed reporting from London, and Nazila Fathi from Tehran.

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