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Iran: UN Says Key Questions Remain About Tehran's Nuclear Plans

Prague, 2 June 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Iran today played down the importance of new revelations about its nuclear program.

Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Hassan Rowhani, today said the whole issue is "being sorted out" and that the latest report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) shows that there are no more important issues on the matter to be disclosed.

In a confidential report that was made public yesterday by Western news agencies, the IAEA says Iran has admitted to importing technology capable of making weapons-grade uranium. The finding contradicts earlier statements made by Tehran that the parts were made by Iran itself. The IAEA also says fresh traces of highly enriched uranium have been found in the country.

Highly enriched uranium is a key ingredient in the production of nuclear weapons. Rowhani today again blamed imported equipment for the contamination and urged the IAEA to carry out more inspections to prove the point.

Robin Batthy, a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group based in Amman, told RFE/RL, "[The IAEA revelations] certainly sound significant, and in general, the longer-term problem remains that the issue here is not simply whether Iran may or may not have military research programs with regard to nuclear power, but the pattern of evasion that has been manifested in the past with regard to it."

While the IAEA gives credit to Iran for opening up its nuclear program, the agency says many issues about Tehran's nuclear intentions remain unresolved. The IAEA also criticizes Iran for continuing centrifuge production despite announcing that such activities had stopped. Under international pressure, Iran last year said it would stop its uranium-enrichment activities and allow snap inspections of its nuclear sites.

Rowhani today said local production of centrifuge equipment would continue for the time being, since Iranian officials have not yet reached an agreement with three private-sector production facilities involved in making centrifuge parts.

Despite the new concerns over Iran's nuclear program, IAEA Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei yesterday said UN inspectors have not found concrete proof of a military nuclear program. El-Baradei said it is premature to make such judgments but that the jury is still out whether Iran's nuclear program is dedicated exclusively to peaceful purposes.

The IAEA's latest report on Iran is due to be discussed at the agency's next board of governors meeting on 14 June.

In an interview with the Associated Press before the report was made public, U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton accused Iran of engaging in "denial and deception" and said Washington is determined to have Tehran answer to the UN Security Council. Washington accuses Tehran of pursuing a clandestine weapons program. Iran rejects the accusation and says its nuclear program is solely for civilian purposes.

Last week, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami warned that Tehran might resume uranium enrichment and no longer allow snap inspections of the country's nuclear sites if the UN does not recognize its cooperation. Khatami called the IAEA's 14 June board meeting very important, but acknowledged that Iran's case might not be resolved at that meeting.

Iran came under criticism for not providing full details about its nuclear activities in a statement last October from the IAEA. Batthy from the International Crisis Group said it is likely the IAEA will issue a compromise resolution. "Chances are you will again see a search for a compromise solution which will ultimately be satisfactory both to those advocates of a stronger response and [to] Iran itself, with the overall goal of continuing to keep Iran within the [Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty] regime and avoid driving it out, which would be, of course, the risk were this to be referred to the Security Council," he said.

The United Sates has been pushing for the issue to be referred to the UN Security Council for possible sanctions. European countries have advocated dialogue rather than confrontation.
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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL focusing on Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is one of the authors of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.