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Iran Discloses Nuclear Activities

Tehran hands over data to the U.N. as required by a resolution last month. A potentially significant gap in the information is noted.

October 24, 2003|Douglas Frantz | Times Staff Writer

VIENNA — Iran turned over a dossier on its nuclear activities to the United Nations on Thursday, hoping to persuade the international community that it is not trying to build an atomic bomb.

The handover was intended to meet one of Iran's obligations under a resolution imposed last month by the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency that gives Tehran until Oct. 31 to come clean on its nuclear activities.

Mohamed ElBaradei, the director-general of the IAEA, said he was assured that the report provided by Iran was comprehensive and accurate. He said it would take several weeks to verify the information.

But U.N. officials immediately confronted a potentially significant gap in the material.

Ali Akbar Salehi, the Iranian representative to the IAEA, said the records did not contain information about where Iran acquired components for centrifuges used to enrich uranium, a process that can provide fuel for a reactor or material for a nuclear weapon.

Salehi told reporters that the information was not contained in the Iranian records because the components had been purchased "through intermediaries" on the black market.

IAEA officials consider understanding the origins of the centrifuge equipment vital to determining whether Iran tried to enrich uranium to a weapons-grade level.

Traces of highly enriched, weapons-grade uranium were found by the IAEA on centrifuges at a plant under construction outside Natanz in central Iran and at Kalaye Electric Co., a formerly secret nuclear facility near Tehran where Iran tested centrifuges.

The United States and others pointed to the discovery of the minute amounts of substance as strong evidence that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons. Tehran contended that the centrifuge components were already contaminated when they were purchased abroad.

IAEA officials and outside experts were skeptical of the explanation, and the U.N. agency had specifically asked Iran to provide information about the origin of the centrifuges.

"We should know the origin of materials and equipment to verify the Iranian statement that this [weapons-grade uranium] was the result of contamination," ElBaradei said at a joint news conference with Salehi on Thursday.

A Western diplomat in Vienna said Thursday that it would be very difficult to verify Iran's claims without knowing where the equipment originated.

Salehi acknowledged that Iran had kept some information about its nuclear purchases from the IAEA in the past, a potential violation of its commitment under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

"The important thing to note is that Iran had to do some of its activities very discreetly because of the sanctions that have been imposed on Iran for the past 25 years," he said, though he contended the actions were legal.

In reports to the IAEA board of governors in June and September, ElBaradei described numerous instances in which Iran had concealed activities from the IAEA. The disclosures, coupled with the discovery of the weapons-grade uranium, helped persuade the board last month to set the Oct. 31 deadline.

A second diplomat in Vienna, who is familiar with the inspection process, said that IAEA inspectors have found other potential hidden activities in recent weeks that have not yet been made public.

Some of the unreported activities were carried out at installations IAEA inspectors were allowed to visit for the first time in recent weeks, including at least one military facility, according to the diplomat.

The diplomat declined to provide additional details, but he said the suspect activities involved the centrifuge program and research into laser technology that could be used to enrich uranium.

Iran says that it wants to enrich uranium to provide fuel for reactors to generate electricity, not to manufacture material for nuclear weapons.

A team of senior IAEA inspectors is scheduled to return to Iran on Saturday to begin trying to verify the information contained in the dossier. ElBaradei said the process could take weeks.

Iran turned over the material as part of a promise made last week to ElBaradei and finalized Tuesday in meetings with the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany. Iran also pledged to suspend its uranium enrichment activities for an undetermined amount of time and to permit more wide-ranging inspections by the IAEA.

Salehi said that Iran intends to stand by its bargain to prove that it is not developing weapons. He said that Iran and the European countries had created an "axis of confidence," a play on President Bush's description of Iran, Iraq and North Korea as an "axis of evil."

ElBaradei said the handover of the records fell within the Oct. 31 deadline even though the verification process will take weeks. He also said that Iran has said that in the next few days it will provide a letter agreeing to the more intrusive inspections contained in an additional protocol to the nonproliferation treaty.

In an interview earlier in the week, ElBaradei stressed that Iran should own up to any "mistakes" in terms of its failure to report activities to the IAEA so that it can start with a clean slate.

"We have in the course of our inspections recorded failures by Iran, breaches of their obligations," he said. "If other failures were to be declared by Iran as part of the full disclosure, that is still better than having a question mark hanging over the Iranian program about whether it is for peaceful purposes."

ElBaradei said he was not certain whether the verification of Iran's disclosure statement would be completed in time for a Nov. 20 meeting of the IAEA board. But he said that he would have at least a preliminary report then.

Times wire services were used in compiling this report.

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