AP: Iran must “confess” to running a past nuclear weapons program or its claims of cooperating with a U.N. investigation will not be credible, the chief U.S. envoy to the U.N. atomic watchdog agency said Friday. The Associated Press
By GEORGE JAHN
VIENNA, Austria (AP) Iran must “confess” to running a past nuclear weapons program or its claims of cooperating with a U.N. investigation will not be credible, the chief U.S. envoy to the U.N. atomic watchdog agency said Friday.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, meanwhile, said in Washington that if Iran wants U.N. sanctions lifted and avoid new ones, it must halt uranium enrichment and related activities that could make the ingredients for an atomic bomb.
If Iran complies, Rice said she was “prepared to meet my (Iranian) counterpart any place and anytime and anywhere, and we can talk about anything.” But “as long as the Iranians are talking and practicing enrichment, we’re not getting anywhere,” she said.
Iran says it needs an enrichment program to produce fuel for civilian power plants, but Washington suspects it is part of its ultimate drive to possess nuclear weapons. Low enriched uranium generates power, but highly enriched, it has no use other than for the fissile payload of nuclear warheads.
Gregory L. Schulte, the chief U.S. delegate to the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, said Iran’s refusal to suspend enrichment “violates Security Council resolutions and casts doubt on its leaders’ ultimate intent.”
“Iran is already a danger in the Middle East,” Schulte said. “That danger only increases as Iran’s leaders shorten the timeline to produce nuclear weapons.”
The IAEA has been investigating Iran’s nuclear programs since revelations in 2003 that the country had conducted nearly two decades of secret atomic activities, including developing enrichment and working on experiments that could be linked to a weapons program.
A recently published U.S. intelligence assessment concluded that in the same year, Iran stopped direct work on creating nuclear arms.
Under a plan agreed to earlier this year with the IAEA, Iran committed itself to answering all lingering questions about its past nuclear activities. That, by implication, included programs that could have weapons applications.
“We are looking for an acknowledgment that they had nuclear weapons,” Schulte said. “The end of the year is rapidly approaching (and) we are waiting to see if Iran’s leaders are ready to confess.”
However, the agreement between Iran and the IAEA makes no direct mention of a clandestine Iranian weapons program, and because Iran denies it ever tried to develop one, the U.S. demands are unlikely to be met.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has called the U.S. intelligence estimate a victory for his country, and officials of other governments have suggested it could relieve pressure on the Islamic republic.
Schulte warned against such interpretations. Iran had been engaged in a “concerted, covert program, conducted by military entities, under the direction of Iran’s government,” he said. “Iran’s leaders could choose to restart that program.”
Still, the revised U.S. National Intelligence Estimate on Iran has stiffened resistance from permanent U.N. Security Council members Russia and China to moving quickly on a third set of sanctions against Iran.
IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei has said he wants to wrap up the investigation by December. But diplomats accredited to the agency, who demanded anonymity because their information was confidential, told The Associated Press this week that the agency had run into unspecified obstacles, and that Iranian officials were now talking about March as the new deadline something they said the United States and its allies would be unlikely to accept.
Associated Press writer Matthew Lee contributed to this report from Washington.