VIENNA, Austria: Iran’s failure to clear up concerns about its nuclear activities after concealing them for almost 20 years sets it apart from all other nations, the U.N. atomic watchdog chief said on Monday.
Six world powers are now negotiating on widening sanctions against Iran for pressing ahead with its programme to enrich uranium, a possible route to building atomic bombs, and ignoring a Feb. 21 U.N. Security Council deadline for it to stop.
“Iran’s verification case is sui generis (one of a kind),” Mohamed ElBaradei, director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said in opening remarks to a gathering of the IAEA’s 35-nation board of governors.
“Unlike other verification cases, the IAEA’s confidence about the nature of Iran’s programme has been shaken because of two decades of undeclared activities (until 2003),” he said.
“This confidence will only be restored when Iran takes the long overdue decision to explain and answer all the agency’s questions and concerns about its past nuclear activities in an open and transparent manner.”
Iran rejects Western suspicions that it is trying to master nuclear bomb technology under the cover of a civilian atomic energy programme, saying it only wants to generate electricity.
Tehran has also complained of unfair treatment, noting the IAEA has found no hard evidence of diversions into bombmaking. It has characterised sanctions as a U.S.-led campaign to stunt its economic development and topple its Islamist government.
“We have not seen concrete proof of diversion of nuclear material, nor the industrial capacity to produce weapons-usable nuclear material, which is an important consideration in assessing the risk,” said ElBaradei.
“But quite a few uncertainties remain about experiments, procurements and other activities ... This renders the agency unable to provide the required assurance about the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme.”
CUTS IN NUCLEAR AID FOR IRAN
At the meeting likely to run some four days, governors were expected to approve cuts to 22 of 55 IAEA technical aid projects in Iran. This would uphold a December U.N. ban on giving Iran technology and know-how of use in making atomic fuel.
ElBaradei, however, praised an apparent nuclear climb-down by North Korea, whose own confrontation with the world eased last month when it agreed to dismantle its nuclear arms programme and readmit IAEA inspectors expelled four years ago.
“I welcome the Beijing agreement, and the invitation to visit North Korea, as positive steps toward the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula and towards the normalisation of North Korea’s relationship with the agency,” he told the board.
ElBaradei goes to Pyongyang on March 13 to work out details of the nuclear shutdown, including production of plutonium, and redeploying inspectors by mid-April to ensure the Stalinist state upholds the pact.
If he comes back from North Korea with clearance to dispatch inspectors, the board will reconvene especially to formally approve their return, an IAEA official said.
A Feb. 22 IAEA report said Iran had installed two cascades, or networks, of 164 centrifuges each in its underground uranium enrichment plant with another two close to completion.
That marked an effort to graduate from the research-level refinement of nuclear fuel to a basis for “industrial-scale” production with some 3,000 centrifuges due to be set up by May.
Iran had not begun pumping uranium gas into cascades at the Natanz plant for enrichment, as it had said it would by the end of February, diplomats said. But it was still refusing to let the IAEA set up remote monitoring cameras in the cascade hall.