Key details gone in Iran documents

Friday, October 24, 2003

VIENNA, Austria -- Iran gave the U.N. nuclear watchdog a dossier meant to dispel fears it is trying to make atomic bombs, but a Tehran envoy acknowledged Thursday the files omitted key information about a bomb-making ingredient found in the country.

Iran's chief delegate to the International Atomic Energy Agency, suggested the dossier did not specify the origin of traces of highly enriched uranium found in his country by agency experts.

IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei has called that discovery the most troubling aspect of Tehran's nuclear activities, and diplomats recently said on condition of anonymity that Iran was expected to explain the origin of those traces.

ElBaradei suggested Thursday he expected the dossier to contain that information, linking it to IAEA efforts to verify Iranian assertions its nuclear programs are peaceful.

"We have asked ... to know the origin of the equipment," he said. "I was assured that the report I got today is a comprehensive and accurate declaration."

The United States accuses Iran of running a weapons program and points to the discovery of highly enriched uranium as strong evidence of such activity.

Iran insists the traces, found in environmental samples, were inadvertently imported on equipment meant to generate electricity and says it does not know where the equipment originated because it was purchased through third parties.

When asked Thursday if the dossier specified where the equipment came from, Salehi repeated that argument, suggesting that the information was missing.

"How can you give the (equipment's) origin ... if you have taken it from the intermediaries on the foreign market?" Salehi said.

But earlier, after meeting with ElBaradei, Salehi said the dossier answers all "open questions" about Iran's nuclear programs.

"We have submitted a report fully disclosing all our past activities in the nuclear field," he said.

Neither Salehi nor ElBaradei would elaborate on the contents of the documents, which Iran turned over ahead of an Oct. 31 deadline to prove its nuclear program is peaceful.

The IAEA has said traces of highly enriched, weapons-grade uranium were found on centrifuges at a plant in Natanz, about 300 miles south of Tehran. Minute quantities of the substance also were found at the Kalay-e Electric Co., just west of Tehran.

An agency report also noted tests by Iran that experts say make little sense unless the country was pursuing nuclear weapons.

Diplomats familiar with the situation said any failure by Tehran to clear up concerns about the weapons-grade uranium would damage its case ahead of a Nov. 20 meeting of the IAEA's board of governors.

If the board finds that suspicions remain about a possible weapons program, it could find Iran in violation of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. That would mean U.N. Security Council involvement and possible international sanctions.

To verify Tehran's claim about the origin of the uranium, the IAEA needs to match traces found in Iran to isotope samples from the country from which the contaminated equipment allegedly came. If the samples do not match, arguments by the United States and its allies that Iran enriched the uranium as part of an arms program would be strengthened.

Diplomats have told AP that Pakistan is the most likely country of origin for the centrifuges. But that nuclear power is not a member of the nonproliferation treaty and does not have to cooperate with the IAEA.

Iran previously insisted it would continue enriching uranium to non-weapons levels. But on Tuesday, Iran told the foreign ministers of Britain, Germany and France it would suspend uranium enrichment and sign a protocol allowing spot checks of its nuclear programs.

ElBaradei said Thursday he was expecting a letter "in the next few days ... agreeing to the conclusion" of the additional protocol.

Iran has allowed IAEA inspectors to view some sites, including at least one military facility, but for weeks has hesitated to fully commit to IAEA demands.


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