“The information indicates that Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear device,” the IAEA said in an uncharacteristically blunt report prepared for the U.N. agency’s 35-nation board of directors.
In its most explicit and authoritative summation of Iran’s nuclear activities to date, the U.N. agency described a structured, focused and secretive effort by Iran to acquire the essential skills for weapons-building, from warhead design to the testing of triggering devices. Although the work was halted in 2003 by order of the country’s top leaders, some key research projects appear to have been shifted to civilian institutions and “may still be ongoing,” the report said.
Iran’s official news service dismissed what it called “fake allegations” intended to further isolate the Islamic republic.
The highly anticipated report was released amid renewed threats of sanctions and even military strikes to stop Iran from building a bomb. Even as the report was being finalized in Vienna, a series of leaks from the IAEA’s intelligence dossier reinforced concerns that Iran was edging closer to nuclear-weapons capability.
Yet, despite its near-indictment of Iran for past weapons research, the IAEA report also suggested that the country is not on the brink of becoming a nuclear power. IAEA officials acknowledged uncertainty about whether Iran’s weapons research still continues, and they released fresh data suggesting continued problems with its production of enriched uranium. The output of Iran’s main uranium-enrichment plant has held steady or fallen in recent months, a phenomenon that nuclear experts attribute to aging or shoddy equipment and the lingering effects of a 2009 computer virus.
“Iran does still seem to be a long way away from having a rapid breakout capability,” said Peter Crail, a nonproliferation specialist at the Arms Control Association. Even as it gradually assembles technology for bombs, Iran “doesn’t appear to be engaged in a crash program to develop a weapon as soon as possible.”
The Obama administration, which has vowed to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear power, said the Islamic republic’s leaders have some explaining to do. “Today’s report is yet another indication of Iran’s failure to live up to its international obligations,” a senior administration official told reporters.
In Israel, Defense Minister Ehud Barak appeared to play down speculation that Israel is preparing to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities. In a radio interview before the report’s release, he stressed that Israel has “not yet” decided to take military action against Iran. He called reports of a possible strike “fear-mongering.”