U.N. agency finds new uranium traces in Iran

Friday, September 26, 2003

VIENNA, Austria -- U.N. atomic experts have found traces of weapons-grade uranium at a second site in Iran, diplomats said Thursday. The development heightened international concerns about the nature of Tehran's nuclear activities.

The diplomats said minute quantities of the substance were found by the International Atomic Energy Agency at the Kalay-e Electric Co., just west of Tehran. They did not specify where at the site the uranium was found.

Earlier this year, U.N. inspectors found weapons-grade highly enriched uranium particles at a plant in Natanz that is supposed to produce only a lower grade for energy purposes.

Iran's Atomic Energy Organization said it had been informed of the new discovery and was evaluating the report.

Iran says traces of the new material were imported on equipment purchased from abroad, while the United States and its allies say it is further of evidence of a nuclear weapons program.

"These are part of a long-standing pattern of evasions and deception to disguise the true nature and purpose of Iran's nuclear activities," said Scott McClellan, spokesman for President Bush.

The U.N. agency has set an Oct. 31 deadline for Iran to prove that its nuclear program is for energy purposes, as it claims, and not for weapons.

No supplier lists

In imposing the deadline, the IAEA has also urged countries that have sold equipment to Iran to come forward. Iran says it has kept no lists of suppliers, but diplomats have told The Associated Press that some of the equipment is consistent with Pakistan's nuclear program while other components appear to have come from West European companies.

At its next meetings, the agency's board of governors could ask the Security Council to get involved in the dispute -- possibly by imposing sanctions -- if it finds that Iran is violating the global treaty banning the spread of nuclear weapons.

The Bush administration demanded that Iran comply with U.N. demands and said it would support a referral to the Security Council if it does not.

"This is one last chance for Iran to comply," McClellan said. "If it doesn't then we believe it should be reported to the Security Council."

One of the diplomats said the new substance was apparently identified after analyzing environmental samples taken in recent weeks by IAEA inspectors.

While agreeing that Iran's nuclear activities were a matter of international concern, the diplomat said the find did not necessarily add weight to arguments that Tehran was running a weapons program.

The presence of minute particles of highly enriched uranium at the new site could mean nothing more than some of the equipment contaminated with the substance at Natanz, 150 miles south of the capital, was stored or used at some point at the Kalay-e site, he said.

Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said outside the U.N. General Assembly in New York on Thursday that his country was able to enrich its own uranium but does not have the technology to develop nuclear weapons.

Agency officials said they would not detail results of IAEA findings, which are being compiled in a confidential report for the board's next meeting on Nov. 20.

"We are not commenting on the results of ... ongoing inspections," said IAEA spokesman Mark Gwozdecky. A team of agency inspectors was scheduled to leave Sunday for Tehran, for an intensive, five-week program of inspections.

Iran on Monday announced that it would cut back its cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency in response to the agency's Oct. 31 deadline, which the Iranian government claims was politically motivated.

The decision, announced by Ali Akbar Salehi, Iran's representative to the IAEA, suggested that Tehran was willing to cooperate only to the point that it was obligated to under agreements with the agency.

That could mean that inspectors would no longer be allowed into sites, including Kalay-e, that are not covered by IAEA safeguard agreements with Iran.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: