UN report heightens Iran nuclear fearsBy
IAEA says Tehran has dramatically accelerated production of enriched uranium and failed to co-operate with investigation
Iran has dramatically accelerated its production of enriched uranium in recent months while refusing to cooperate with an investigation of evidence that it may have worked on designing a bomb, a confidential report by the UN nuclear watchdog has said.
In the report to member states, seen by the Guardian, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) found Iran had tripled its production rate of uranium enriched to the level of 20% over the past three month.
Much of the increase in production has taken place at an underground site known as Fordow, and the report’s findings will further increase the international pressure on Iran at a time of already high tension,
Tehran says it needs the material for its research reactor, which produces medical isotopes, but western governments argue that its stock of 20% uranium brings it significantly closer to weapons grade fissile material.
The report found that Iran has now produced nearly five and a half metric tonnes of low enriched uranium – enriched to about 3.5% – and about 109kg of uranium enriched to 20%. If enriched further, to more than 90% purity, the total stockpile would be more than enough to make four nuclear warheads.
Iran says it has no intention of making weapons, and the report may not be enough for western countries, led by the US, the UK and France, to persuade Russia and China to take part in an escalation of sanctions.
The Russian prime minister, Vladimir Putin, said the focus on the nuclear programme was a cover for western attempts to oust the clerical regime in Tehran.
“I think that, under the appearance of a struggle to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons through the addition of another potential member of the nuclear club, Iran, attempts of a different kind are being made and other aims are being set – to change the regime,” he said.
The report also criticised Iran for not co-operating with investigations into its nuclear programme, not allowing inspectors to visit a suspect nuclear site and refusing to answer questions about a former Soviet nuclear weapons scientist who provided technical advice.
The report concluded that because of Tehran’s lack of co-operation “the agency is unable to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran, and therefore to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities”.
The IAEA also said it had not received a satisfactory explanation of how 20kg of uranium metal had gone missing from an Iranian research laboratory.
Inspectors noticed its absence during an audit last August. When they tried to investigate in recent weeks, “Iran indicated that it no longer possessed relevant documentation and that the personnel involved were no longer available”, the report said.
Some western government analysts believe the missing uranium metal could have been used to test the explosive components of a nuclear warheads.
In a previous report, published in November, the IAEA expressed concern that such explosive testing could have been conducted inside a special steel cylindrical vessel at a military site, Parchin. In two visits, in January and last week, IAEA inspectors asked to see Parchin but were refused. “Iran stated that it was still not able to grant access to that site,” the report said.
Diplomats based in Vienna, the IAEA’s headquarters, said the inspectors were told that because Parchin was a military site, senior officials would have to grant access and that would take some time. That position did not change between the IAEA team’s first and second visit.
According to one diplomat familiar with the IAEA visit last week, Iranian officials initially appeared ready to talk about the inspectors requests but said at the end of the first day they said they would have to check with their superiors.
“When they came back on the second day, the progress stopped,” the diplomat said.
During the January visit, the IAEA presented a document outlining concerns about intelligence evidence that Iran had experimented on warhead-making designs. The document addressed 65 items but, in each case, Tehran said the evidence was fabricated.
“[The inspectors] gave them 65 paragraphs and they came back with 65 nos,” a diplomat said.
One of the questions raised by the IAEA was about the activities of Vyacheslav Danilenko, a Ukrainian who had worked on the Soviet nuclear weapons programme and worked in Iran from 1996 to 2002.
Danilenko has told the IAEA that he was helping the Iranians make microscopic “nano-diamonds” and lecturing.
According to an official familiar with the investigation, the Iranians were asked to produce evidence of that work but have so far failed to do so.
At the end of the report, the IAEA’s director general, Yukiya Amano, urged Iran to provide the answers to the agency’s questions. Diplomats in Vienna said that, until there were substantive responses, no more inspection missions to Tehran were planned.
The IAEA member states will consider the report at a board meeting beginning on 5 March, where there could be calls for Iran to be referred to the UN security council for further sanctions. Until now, Russia and China have blocked such a move, but both had urged Iran to co-operate with the IAEA missions. It is not clear which way they will vote at the 5 March meeting.
from Julian Borger