By Damien McElroy, Foreign Correspondent
The world nuclear watchdog dropped a claim that Iran bought large quantities of a metal used to trigger explosions in atomic weapons after bowing to objections from Teheran.
The International Atomic Energy Agency at first accepted Western intelligence reports that the Islamic republic had bought "huge amounts" of beryllium from "a number of nations", but removed the claim from its final report on Iranian compliance with nuclear non-proliferation rules, published 10 days ago.
An earlier draft of the IAEA report, seen by The Telegraph, said that Iran had manufactured material to use with the beryllium that it had purchased as a "nuclear initiator in some designs of nuclear weapons".
A spokesman for the IAEA conceded that the agency had removed any mention of beryllium from its report, but said that the change was insignificant. She said: "There are all kinds of technical details in first drafts which are later removed. That's part of the drafting process."
Jacky Sanders, the American ambassador to the IAEA, however, said that Iran's assertions that it has never acquired or used beryllium were no longer reliable.
The climbdown by the IAEA reflected Teheran's insistence that it had never acquired or used beryllium, and helped Iran escape immediate referral to the UN Security Council over its nuclear ambitions. Instead, the IAEA board passed a resolution demanding that the country suspend uranium enrichment while the agency inspects declared nuclear sites.
The compromise agreement has been heavily criticised by American officials and others for failing to compel Iran to open all suspected sites to nuclear inspectors on demand. The IAEA last week revealed that Iran had refused access to two military bases where it is said to be developing nuclear material and missiles capable of carrying an atom bomb. The deal permitted inspections of Iran's existing civilian nuclear energy production sites only.
Western intelligence agencies have intercepted documents suggesting that Iran purchased equipment for delivery to the Parchin military base and a second facility at Lavisan. Satellite photographs suggested that weapons are being tested at the sites. The head of the IAEA, Mohammad ElBaradei said that Iran had repeatedly rejected requests to visit the sites. "We are following every credible piece of information," he said. "It takes time."
Iranian officials claim that they are not obliged to open up the facilities to weapons inspectors. "There is nothing required for us to do," said one Vienna-based official. "They should have evidence that there are nuclear activities, not just, 'We heard from someone that there is dual-use equipment that we want to see'."
The IAEA head, Mohammad ElBaradei, yesterday denied that he had collaborated with the Iranians to expunge the beryllium charge. He said: "We don't negotiate our report. At the end of the day not a single paragraph is shown to any single country until the report is out."