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Iran: U.S., EU Say Tehran Proceeding With Uranium Plans

The uranium-conversion facility in Isfahan, Iran (file photo) (AFP) The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has delayed taking any action on Iran's nuclear program. The move on 24 November to delay sending Iran's case to the United Nations Security Council is aimed at reopening negotiations on a Russian proposal for a compromise that would allow Iran to enrich uranium, but only in Russia and under strict controls. However, the EU and the United States are concerned about Iran having documents that show how to produce parts of nuclear warheads.

Prague, 25 November 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Diplomats and analysts say Iran is pushing ahead with plans to enrich uranium in defiance of international pressure to give up sensitive nuclear technology.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in a report that Iran had handed over several pages related to the production of key components of a nuclear weapon. The United States and European Union said the pages showed Iran's atomic ambitions might include a nuclear arsenal.

Old Ambitions

Iran's ambassador to the IAEA, Mohammad Mehdi Akhunzadeh, denied this and said the information could be found in publicly available literature and on the Internet. However, 18 years ago, when Iran got the documents, the Internet did not exist.

Mark Fitzpatrick, the senior fellow for nonproliferation at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, says the documents clearly indicate Iran's old nuclear ambitions.

Fitzpatrick says the documents were most likely provided by Abdul Qadeer Khan, who is often called the father of Pakistan's nuclear program. Khan is alleged to have created a covert supply network to provide nuclear technology to so-called rogue states. The network supplied uranium-enrichment technology to Libya, Iran and North Korea.

"It seems clear that [Iran] obtained the documents from A. Q. Khan's network," Fitzpatrick said. "These are documents about casting and shaping metal, which is the specialty of A. Q. Khan himself. This documentation is one chapter in the nuclear cookbook. It's not the entire weapons process, but it's an important chapter and this is the most clear evidence that the IAEA has today about the weaponization aspect of Iran's nuclear program."

Intelligence agencies have not been able to determine whether the warhead documents were supplied to Iran, but officials suspect that they were part of the package of goods and technology offered as part of the Khan network.

Under Pressure

Fitzpatrick says handing over of the documents is not an act of Teheran's goodwill. The IAEA knew about them before through other investigative work.

"Iran was under pressure from the agency and finally thought, I suppose, that this would show that they are being cooperative by turning over this document," Fitzpatrick said. "But I think it [the document] raises more questions about what other documents and material did Iran get from the network that it has not yet turned over to the IAEA."

It seems that IAEA should have enough reasons to report Iran to UN but the move has been delayed. Why?

"Iran is able again to escape serious consequence from this board meeting," Fitzpatrick said. "It's not the inspectors at the agency of course. It's the Board of Governors of the agency who have delayed taking the step of reporting this to New York. It's because of the members of the board need a kind of consensus. They need the support of important countries like Russia, and Russia is not ready for this issue to go to New York."

Russian Compromise

Instead Russia has offered a compromise. Moscow has suggested letting Tehran perform less-sensitive uranium processing in Iran and send the converted material to Russia, where a Russian-Iranian joint venture would handle the critical enrichment process. Enrichment can yield fuel for nuclear-power stations or, at high levels of enrichment, bomb-grade fissile material.

Javad Vaeedi, deputy head of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, said Iran had not yet received any official proposal from either Russia or the European Union. Vaeedi said Iran welcomes "any proposal that acknowledges its right to have access to peaceful nuclear technology including the fuel cycle, that does not deprive Iran of any of the nuclear-fuel-cycle stages."

Tehran denies wanting anything more than civilian nuclear energy. Iran's chief delegate to the IAEA Mohammed Mehdi Akhounzadeh reiterated this official Iranian position:

"We recall, once again, that Iran would continue to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, hence any threat to refer the issue to the United Nations Security Council neither would be productive nor could deprive Iran from exercising its undeniable right as recognized under the [Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty]," Akhounzadeh said.

The West suspects that Iran either intends to use this technology to make a nuclear weapon or wants to give itself the option of doing so. The Western argument has been that Iran is not to be trusted and that it has lost the right to this technology because it broke the rules previously.

Iran's Nuclear Program

Iran's Nuclear Program

THE COMPLETE PICTURE: RFE/RL's complete coverage of controversy surrounding Iran's nuclear program.


An annotated timeline of Iran's nuclear program.