Iran Nuclear NewsIAEA to pursue Iran probe, Tehran says it's innocent

IAEA to pursue Iran probe, Tehran says it’s innocent

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Reuters: The U.N. nuclear watchdog chief said on Monday he would pursue an investigation into intelligence reports that say Iran secretly studied how to make atom bombs, calling it a grave concern despite Tehran’s denials. By Mark Heinrich and Karin Strohecker

VIENNA (Reuters) – The U.N. nuclear watchdog chief said on Monday he would pursue an investigation into intelligence reports that say Iran secretly studied how to make atom bombs, calling it a grave concern despite Tehran’s denials.

Iran says the intelligence is fake. Iran’s envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency said his country had answered all IAEA questions about its nuclear work and a U.N. inspector report on February 22 certified Tehran’s nuclear program was entirely peaceful.

But IAEA Director Mohamed ElBaradei disputed this, saying that while improved Iranian transparency had settled some doubts about its activities, intelligence suggesting Tehran sought to “weaponize” nuclear materials remained a pressing issue.

“Iran continues to maintain that these alleged weaponization studies related to conventional weapons only or are fabricated. However a full-fledged examination of this issue has yet to take place,” he said in a speech opening an IAEA governors meeting.

“I urge Iran to be as active and cooperative as possible in working with the agency to clarify this matter of serious concern,” he told the 35-nation policy-making body.

Iran has pursued a uranium-enrichment program it says is meant only to generate electricity, but whose centrifuge technology could be turned to yielding atomic bombs.

Western concerns grew last week after an IAEA presentation to diplomats on intelligence pointing to links in Iran between projects to process uranium, test high explosives and modify a missile cone for a nuclear payload.

Suspicions of Iranian intentions, fanned by Iran’s past concealment of nuclear work and continued curbs on U.N. inspections, were expected to produce a U.N. Security Council vote later on Monday to toughen sanctions against Tehran.

FRESH IAEA RESOLUTION ON IRAN?

If more sanctions are adopted, Western missions on the IAEA board may propose a resolution to bolster IAEA investigators by calling on Iran prove the intelligence is false.

It would be the first such measure by IAEA governors since they referred Tehran to the Security Council two years ago on suspicion of having run a covert nuclear arms program.

“Despite some progress in addressing past issues, troubling questions remain about Iranian activities that strongly suggest a clandestine weapons-related program,” Gregory Schulte, U.S. ambassador to the IAEA, told reporters.

“Between the indications of weapons work which would constitute a violation of Iran’s (non-proliferation treaty) obligations, and Iran’s blatant violation of Security Council resolutions (demanding an enrichment halt), there is strong reason for Iran’s file to remain open in New York and Vienna.”

ElBaradei said IAEA investigators had not detected any illicit use of nuclear material in connection with the suspected weaponization studies, “nor does it have credible information in this regard.”

But he made clear the IAEA was determined to resolve the matter by seeking to verify the intelligence, much of it from a laptop smuggled out of Iran by a defector in 2004 and passed to Washington, and get satisfactory explanations from Iran.

ElBaradei said it was “obviously encouraging” that Iran had in the past two months provided enough clarifications to resolve all other outstanding issues in an IAEA inquiry dating to 2003, and allowed some visits to advanced nuclear research sites.

“The agency has (also) not observed any increase in the number of centrifuges in operation since … November and that the level of feed (of uranium gas into the machines for enrichment) is well below capacity,” ElBaradei said.

But he said Iran could only restore trust that it was not hiding any parallel military nuclear effort if it adopted the IAEA’s Additional Protocol, allowing unfettered snap inspections going beyond its two declared nuclear production sites.

(Editing by Caroline Drees)

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