Reuters: With a deadline looming for Iran to halt uranium enrichment, the head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog on Thursday urged Tehran to clarify “hazy” areas of its atomic programme, which the West suspects is secretly for developing atomic weapons. MADRID (Reuters) – With a deadline looming for Iran to halt uranium enrichment, the head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog on Thursday urged Tehran to clarify “hazy” areas of its atomic programme, which the West suspects is secretly for developing atomic weapons.
The U.N. Security Council has demanded Iran suspend its uranium enrichment programme, which can produce fuel for atomic power plants and weapons. The council on March 29 asked the U.N.’s Vienna-based nuclear agency to report on Tehran’s compliance in 30 days.
“There are still a number of outstanding issues in Iran that we need to clarify, the picture is not very clear, the picture is hazy,” Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) told reporters in Madrid, after a meeting of U.N. agency chiefs.
“We have seen issues that we need to understand, before we can say we are satisfied that all activities in Iran are exclusively for peaceful purposes.”
Iran says it is only interested in peaceful nuclear power and does not want atomic weapons. But it concealed sensitive atomic fuel activities from the IAEA for nearly 20 years.
The West has refused to rule out sanctions if Iran does not comply with U.N. demands. U.S. officials have said military action is an option, though Britain and France have disavowed it.
The nuclear standoff has added to anxiety over crude supply in oil markets, where world prices remain high.
The U.N. Security Council could give Iran only two chances to curb its nuclear programs before imposing sanctions, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton said on Thursday.
The United States has tried to overcome resistance from two council veto holders, China and Russia, for action against Iran and hopes to increase pressure over what it believes is Tehran’s pursuit of a nuclear bomb.
Europe’s three largest economies — Germany, France and Britain — called off 2-1/2 years of talks with Iran after it announced in January that it would resume enrichment work.
Highly enriched uranium is used to make nuclear weapons.
The so-called EU3 has made re-suspension of enrichment a condition for renewal of talks. Tehran has refused, saying enrichment is a sovereign right it will not give up.
The IAEA has been unable to verify Iran’s nuclear programme is exclusively peaceful in three years of inspections. ElBaradei has found no hard evidence the country is developing material for nuclear weapons.
“We still have time to negotiate, we still have time for diplomacy, because there are still a number of issues that have not been clarified, that created a lack of confidence,” ElBaradei told reporters.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki on Friday said Iran was willing to negotiate only regarding industrial scale-enrichment. The EU3 and United States want Iran to halt all enrichment, including small-scale research.
(Additional reporting by Saul Hudson in Washington)