Reuters: The analysis of soil samples taken by U.N. inspectors
at Lavizan, a site in Tehran that U.S. officials suspect may be linked to an atomic weapons programme, shows no sign of nuclear activity, Western diplomats said.
Satellite photos of Lavizan taken between August 2003 and May 2004 showed that Iran had completely razed Lavizan, a site
which Iran said was a former military research laboratory and
had nothing to do with atomic-related activities. Reuters

By Louis Charbonneau

VIENNA - The analysis of soil samples taken by U.N. inspectors at Lavizan, a site in Tehran that U.S. officials suspect may be linked to an atomic weapons programme, shows no sign of nuclear activity, Western diplomats said.

Satellite photos of Lavizan taken between August 2003 and May 2004 showed that Iran had completely razed Lavizan, a site which Iran said was a former military research laboratory and had nothing to do with atomic-related activities.

"The environmental samples taken at Lavizan have come back negative so far," a Vienna-based diplomat who follows the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) told Reuters. Negative means the samples contained no traces of nuclear materials.

The IAEA declined to comment. Some diplomats here said these findings would bolster the credibility of Iran's story about the site, while others said it might merely show that Tehran had been successful at covering its tracks at Lavizan.

Last year, Iran carried out what the IAEA said was "significant" modifications of a workshop at the Kalaye Electric Co. before permitting IAEA inspectors to take samples there.

Despite the reconstruction, the IAEA found traces of enriched uranium at Kalaye, raising fears that Tehran had been secretly purifying uranium for use in a weapon.

Regarding Lavizan, Washington accused Iran of removing a layer of topsoil and rubble from the site and replacing it with new soil, in what U.S. officials said might have been an attempt to cover clandestine nuclear activity there.

WHOLE-BODY COUNTERS

Former U.S. ambassador to the IAEA, Kenneth Brill, accused Iran in June of using "the wrecking ball and bulldozer" to sanitise Lavizan prior to the arrival of U.N. inspectors.

One diplomat close to the IAEA told Reuters that on-site inspections of Lavizan produced no proof that any soil had been removed or that any new soil had been added.

In a separate development, the official IRNA news agency said Iran's hardline lawmakers might soon oblige President Mohammad Khatami's government to follow North Korea's example and quit the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

When the Lavizan story broke in June, one cause for concern was the presence of two U.S.-manufactured "whole-body counters" at Lavizan, devices that measure the amount of radiation contamination inside the body.

While U.S. and other officials said this was strong evidence that Tehran was conducting clandestine nuclear activity at the site, diplomats said that the IAEA inspectors concluded the body counters were no indication of clandestine atomic work.

The United States accuses Iran of developing nuclear weapons under cover of a civilian atomic energy programme, a charge Tehran has repeatedly denied.

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The IAEA has been inspecting Iran's nuclear programme for two years. Although it has uncovered many previously concealed activities that could be linked to weapons activity, it has found no "smoking gun" to prove Washington's case.

Iran told the IAEA that Lavizan had been razed when the defence ministry lost a court battle with a Tehran municipality that claimed to own the site. Iranian officials gave the IAEA a series of newspaper articles to prove that the court case was widely discussed in the public domain.

But a diplomat with access to recent intelligence reports said that the newspaper articles could easily have been faked.

"Give me a few days and I can bring you a whole stack of newspaper articles on anything you want," the diplomat said.

Earlier this month, a U.S. official appeared to backtrack from previous certainty about Lavizan, telling Reuters that he was not certain that the IAEA samples taken there would test positive for nuclear materials.

"But the Iranians are certainly behaving as if they have something to hide there," said the official. He said that negative samples from Lavizan might only be proof that Iran had been successful at covering its tracks.

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