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U.S. to Ask Nuclear Agency to Rebuke Iran Over Activities

June 12, 2003|Sonni Efron | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The United States will ask the International Atomic Energy Agency to denounce Iran's nuclear programs and to insist that Tehran address unanswered questions about its activities, a senior State Department official said Wednesday.

However, the Bush administration is not pushing the IAEA to declare Iran in violation of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty or to refer the matter to the United Nations Security Council, as was recently done with North Korea, the official said.

Instead, the United States hopes that what the official called a "devastating" IAEA report on Iran's nuclear research will convince other countries that Iran is working on a clandestine nuclear weapons program -- and pressure Tehran to stop.

The IAEA's board of governors is scheduled to meet Monday to discuss a report by director Mohamed ElBaradei that Iran had secretly imported and processed uranium and had built facilities to refine and store it. The report, leaked last week, concluded that Iran had "failed to meet its obligations" to report nuclear material but did not declare Tehran in violation of the nonproliferation treaty.

The report was based on ElBaradei's visit to Iran in February, during which he was not permitted to visit a centrifuge workshop to verify whether uranium had been refined there. Another IAEA task force is now in Iran to inspect that facility, and the team's findings are expected to be presented at the Monday meeting.

The State Department official said the meeting would be very important "in highlighting to the Iranians that they have a lot of explaining to do. We are convinced, as are a number of others, that the Iranians have a nuclear weapons program they are seeking to conceal."

Tehran reacted angrily when Washington hailed the IAEA report as supporting its longtime claim that Iran is working on nuclear weapons. The head of Iran's atomic energy agency held a news conference Tuesday to demand that Washington provide proof to support its accusations -- and took a swipe at the U.S. failure to find banned weapons in Iraq.

"I want to tell the Americans that this report contains nothing that can be used as a pretext against the Islamic Republic," Gholamreza Aghazadeh was quoted by Agence France-Presse as saying. "But first clear up your embarrassment in Iraq before being embarrassed again over your accusations against Iran."

On Wednesday, the State Department official said the report contained abundant evidence of a "very extensive, sophisticated" nuclear weapons program.

Among other evidence, the report found that Iran had produced uranium metal, the official said. "Other than a few sophisticated reactors [of a type Iran is not capable of producing], the only use for uranium metal is to fabricate warheads," the official said.

The official also branded as "ludicrous" Iran's claim that it is pursuing a civilian nuclear power program to augment its dwindling petroleum resources. According to U.S. Energy Department statistics, Iran has enough oil and gas at current production levels to last "a couple of hundred years," he said.

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