By Louis Charbonneau
VIENNA, Austria - The United States accused Iran Wednesday of threatening global peace with its plans to process 37 tons of raw "yellowcake" uranium, which one Western nuclear expert said would be enough to build five atomic bombs.
The comments from a hawkish U.S. official was a response to a report by U.N. inspectors on Tehran's nuclear activities that listed unresolved issues, but contained nothing to confirm U.S. allegations that Tehran is building a bomb.
In the confidential report, obtained in full by Reuters, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said Iran planned a large-scale test of a uranium conversion facility this month.
"Iran's announcements are further strong evidence of the compelling need to take Iran's nuclear program to the Security Council," U.S. Under Secretary of State John Bolton said in a statement to Reuters. The U.N. Security Council can impose economic sanctions.
"The United States will continue to urge other members of the IAEA Board of Governors to join us in this effort, to deal with the Iranian threat to international peace and security."
Tehran insists the only purpose of its nuclear program is the peaceful generation of electricity.
The U.N. agency said it "continues to make steady progress in understanding the (Iranian nuclear) program," though its investigation is not complete.
"It is a work in progress," a senior Western diplomat said of the investigation, adding that the IAEA's sixth such report on Iran was "a mixed bag."
The unresolved issues include enriched-uranium particles found in Iran, work on advanced P-2 centrifuges that can make bomb-grade uranium, and suspected Iranian attempts to buy equipment with both military and civilian nuclear applications.
The report will be discussed at a meeting of IAEA Board of Governors in September. While Washington would like the board to report Iran to the Security Council for violating its non-proliferation obligations, diplomats at the U.N. say Washington has few supporters for such a step now.
ENOUGH FOR FIVE CRUDE BOMBS
The IAEA said Iranian technicians had told its inspectors they planned to convert 37 tons of "yellowcake" uranium into uranium hexafluoride (UF6), the feed material for centrifuges. David Albright, a former U.N. weapons inspector and currently president of the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), said the conversion could give Iran the raw material to produce some 220 pounds of bomb-grade highly-enriched uranium.
Albright said if the UF6 was later enriched sufficiently, "it's roughly enough for about five crude nuclear weapons of the type Iran could conceivably build."
He said he was surprised at the many unresolved issues in Iran, adding that it was "difficult to keep track of them all."
But he said Washington could not point to the report as proof of an Iranian weapons program. "There's nothing in this report that says 'Gotcha Iran!', no smoking gun," he said.
Iran's foreign ministry acknowledged the report left questions unanswered but dismissed them as insignificant.
"There are some minor issues remaining which we hope will be solved in the future although some are trying to make a fuss and create a negative atmosphere about Iran," ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said in a statement.
The IAEA said it had received enough information about Iran's laser uranium enrichment program and uranium conversion experiments to end its special probes of those issues.
The agency also said Iran's explanation for the discovery of traces of highly-enriched uranium at the Natanz enrichment plant and Kalaye Electric Company was "plausible."
Iran said the particles came from contaminated machinery purchased abroad and were not enriched at Natanz or Kalaye.
However, the IAEA said it was still investigating other possible explanations for the traces, which several diplomats said included the possibility that Iran had enriched the uranium itself at a secret location inside the country.