Vienna: The UN nuclear watchdog chief on Monday rejected Israeli and French suggestions he has hidden information about Iran’s disputed atomic programme and demanded an immediate halt to such accusations.
But Mohamed ElBaradei also said that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was in ‘stalemate’ with Iran over issues that had stirred international mistrust in its nuclear designs.
ElBaradei’s renewed highlighting of the deadlock may be timely for Western powers striving to persuade Russia and China of a need for much harsher sanctions against Iran.
ElBaradei delivered a rare public defence of the IAEA’s sensitive non-proliferation inspections work in a riposte to allegations that he has sat on ‘evidence’ his critics say point to a covert Iranian drive to ‘weaponise’ uranium enrichment.
A 28 August IAEA report said that western intelligence material implying Tehran secretly combined uranium processing, airborne high-explosive tests and efforts to revamp a missile cone in a way that would fit a nuclear warhead was compelling.
It said Iran must clarify the matter instead of just rejecting the intelligence as fabricated, without backing up its denials. But the report contained no new, concrete evidence of an Iranian nuclear weapons agenda.
In an address opening a meeting of the IAEA’s 35-nation Board of Governors, ElBaradei said that all information on its Iran investigations released so far had been vetted for substance and the agency would stick to that standard of objectivity.
“I am dismayed by the allegations of some member states, which have been fed to the media, that information has been withheld from the board. These allegations are politically motivated and totally baseless,” he said.
“Such attempts to influence the work of IAEA’s non-proliferation inspectorate and undermine its independence and objectivity are in violation of IAEA Statute and should therefore cease forthwith.”
The west suspects Iran is pursuing the means to produce atomic bombs behind the facade of a civilian nuclear programme. Iran says it wants only electricity from uranium enrichment.
ElBaradei said that Iran last month complied with longstanding IAEA requests for tighter monitoring of its Natanz enrichment plant to help verify no diversions into nuclear weapons work.
“On other issues relevant to Iran’s nuclear programme, however, there is stalemate,” he told the IAEA governors.
ElBaradei was alluding to the blocked weaponisation inquiry, Iran’s withholding of design information on planned nuclear sites, and Tehran’s refusal to adopt an IAEA protocol permitting inspections ranging beyond declared nuclear sites.
“It is essential that Iran substantively re-engage with the agency to clarify and bring to closure all outstanding issues including the most difficult and important questions relating to the alleged weaponisation studies, by granting the agency access to persons, information and locations,” he said.
Iran has repeatedly declared the entire matter closed.
French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner said last week that the IAEA had yet to publish annexes of findings on Iran which he said were important for an assessment of “possible military dimensions to Iran’s enrichment campaign.
Israel’s foreign ministry said that the IAEA report does not reflect all the agency knows about Iran’s efforts to continue to pursue its military nuclear programme and its ongoing attempts at concealment and deception.
The Jewish state is Iran’s arch-foe believed to harbour the Middle East’s only nuclear arsenal. Israel has been lobbying six world powers to intensify efforts to stop Iran’s nuclear activity — by crippling sanctions or even last-resort war.
A senior diplomat close to the IAEA said that the agency had collected further information on alleged military aspects to Iran’s nuclear programme but this had not yet been properly checked for veracity, and so has not been released.
“If there was indeed a ‘smoking gun´ on Iran, the IAEA would certainly not keep it in its pocket but would be at the UN Security Council with such evidence because that would be really serious,” the diplomat said.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared on Monday Iran would continue uranium enrichment and never negotiate on its rights to a sovereign nuclear energy sector.
US President Barack Obama has given the Islamic Republic until later in September to take up a six-power offer of talks on trade benefits if it shelves enrichment, or face biting sanctions that may target its giant oil industry.