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U.S. Wants Nuclear Declaration on Iran

May 09, 2003|From Times Wire Services

VIENNA — The United States, concerned that Iran may be running a nuclear weapons program, is pushing for the International Atomic Energy Agency to declare that Tehran has violated the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, diplomats said Thursday.

Washington has accused Tehran of secretly embarking on a program to enrich uranium at Natanz in central Iran that U.S. officials fear could be used to make nuclear weapons.

The diplomats said U.S. requests for support have gone out to Russia, France, Britain, Germany and other members of the 35-nation Board of Governors -- the key decision-maker at the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency -- ahead of its meeting next month.

In Washington, President Bush expressed concern Thursday that Iran might be developing nuclear arms and said the United States would take the lead in preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

Bush noted the IAEA's upcoming meeting and said, "We'll wait and see what it says."

Tehran is said to be on track to produce enough enriched uranium by 2005 to make many nuclear bombs a year.

A declaration, depending on its language, could restrict itself to expressing concern about a violation or increase pressure on Tehran to account for its activities by referring the issue to the Security Council.

That would further strain U.S.-Iranian relations, which took a turn for the worse last year after Bush labeled Tehran part of an "axis of evil" for its alleged support of terrorism.

The nature of the work at the Natanz site was not known until last year. The diplomats, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Mohamed ElBaradei, director-general of the IAEA, was taken aback at what he saw on a visit there in February.

"It's a sophisticated uranium-enrichment plant, and they had come a long way," said one diplomat familiar with the findings of the visit.

An agency spokeswoman, Melissa Fleming, said it was too early to comment on whether Tehran had violated its treaty commitments.

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