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Tehran Says Plutonium Issues With IAEA 'Resolved'

Iran's Natanz nuclear facility (file photo) (MNA) August 28, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Iran says it has resolved questions from the United Nations' nuclear watchdog about its tests with plutonium, which can be used to fuel nuclear bombs.

An Iranian statement posted on the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) website says the IAEA now considers the plutonium issue resolved.

The five-page document, released by the IAEA at Tehran's request, lists the agreements recently reached between Iranian and UN diplomats.

In the statement, Iran says the IAEA on August 20 "stated that earlier statement made by Iran are consistent with the agency's [own] findings" and that the IAEA will "officially" communicate its satisfaction to Tehran in a letter.

"To some extent, this is an attempt by the Iranians to deflect Security Council consideration of further sanctions," said Shannon Kile of the Stockholm International Peace Institute.

The Iranian side also sets a timetable for Tehran to answer questions about its research and development of advanced P-2 centrifuges used for uranium enrichment.

The document says Iran has been cooperating with the UN agency on other issues -- such as allowing UN inspections of a heavy-water research reactor in Arak on July 30, and issuing one-year multiple-entry visas to 14 UN nuclear inspectors.

Iran also pledges to cooperate with the IAEA to provide the necessary "clarifications and information" about its nuclear activities.

Sufficient Answers?

Shannon Kile, a senior nonproliferation expert at the Stockholm International Peace Institute, told RFE/RL that it is important to note that the IAEA is not the author but the recipient of today's statement, which is a follow-up to Iran's past commitments.

"Basically, the Iranians are saying that 'we will address all of the outstanding safeguards compliance issues that have been identified by the IAEA and we'll provide the answers and then we consider the file to be closed.'" Kile explained. "And of course what that leaves out is whether the International Atomic [Energy] Agency will judge Iran's answers to the questions to be adequate and sufficient."

Kile pointed to Iran's "troubling pattern of concealment of certain activities" in the past, suggesting that the IAEA may not be entirely satisfied with the answers Tehran provides.

Iran says its nuclear program is entirely peaceful. But many in the international community suspect Iran of seeking nuclear-weapons capability.

A diplomat familiar with the agreement has suggested that the document is encouraging in that it reflects agreement between Tehran and the IAEA on the focus of outstanding questions. But, the diplomat said, its language is loose enough to allow loopholes if Iran decides not to fully honor its commitments.

Another diplomat familiar with the Iranian nuclear case is quoted by Reuters as saying that the timetable "now publicly commits the Iranians to live up to their promises."

Avoiding Further Sanctions

But Kile says today's document should be seen in the context of the pressure that Tehran is facing over its nuclear activities.

The UN Security Council has already issued two sets of sanctions against Iran for failing to halt sensitive nuclear activities like uranium enrichment. The United States has warned that it will push for a third set of sanctions that are tougher than the current ones.

"Iran is looking for a way to take some of the international pressure off of itself," Kile said. "And by committing itself to resolving all the outstanding issues, I think it helps countries such as China and Russia, which are reluctant to impose more stringent sanctions on Iran. It allows those countries to argue that Iran should be given more time. So to some extent, I think this is an attempt by the Iranians to deflect Security Council consideration of further sanctions over its enrichment program."

Last week, Iran and the IAEA announced that they had agreed a timeline for implementing a plan to clarify Tehran's nuclear activities.

But Washington accused Tehran of manipulating the IAEA and said that the plan had "limitations."

The IAEA board of governors is next expected to discuss Iran's nuclear activities in September.

Talking Technical

Talking Technical

A control panel at the Bushehr nuclear power plant (Fars)

CASCADES AND CENTRIFUGES: Experts and pundits alike continue to debate the goals and status of Iran's nuclear program. It remains unclear whether the program is, as Tehran insists, a purely peaceful enegy project or, as the United States claims, part of an effort to acquire nuclear weapons.
On June 7, 2006, RFE/RL correspondent Charles Recknagel spoke with nuclear expert Shannon Kile of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute in Sweden to help sort through some of the technical issues involved. "[Natanz] will be quite a large plant," Kile said. "There will be about 50,000 centrifuges and how much enriched uranium that can produce [is] hard to say because the efficiency of the centrifuges is not really known yet. But it would clearly be enough to be able to produce enough [highly-enriched uranium] for a nuclear weapon in fairly short order, if that's the route that they chose to go...." (more)


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


An annotated timeline of Iran's nuclear program.