IAEA: Iran Advancing Uranium Enrichment

By Molly Moore and Dafna Linzer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, February 28, 2006

PARIS, Feb. 27 -- Iran is advancing its uranium enrichment program, but the U.N. atomic monitoring organization still cannot determine whether the country is secretly developing nuclear weapons, according to an agency report made public on Monday.

The International Atomic Energy Agency "has not seen any diversion of nuclear material to nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices," Director General Mohamed ElBaradei said in a report to the IAEA's board. But the agency was not "in a position to conclude that there are no undeclared nuclear materials or activities in Iran," the report added.

ElBaradei distributed the assessment to the 35 board members on Monday in advance of a meeting in Vienna next week to debate plans for exerting greater international pressure on Tehran to halt any nuclear developments that could facilitate production of weapons. The report's contents were shared with reporters by diplomats monitoring the debate.

ElBaradei's report criticizes Iran for failing to reveal "the scope and nature" of its nuclear program despite three years of IAEA monitoring efforts. At the same time, the report noted that Iran had made some incremental efforts to meet the agency's requests for information.

Last Sunday, Tehran permitted an IAEA official to meet with an Iranian official involved in purchases of nuclear-related equipment that could be used for either civilian or military purposes, the report said. Iran allowed inspectors access to some, but not all, of that equipment, the report added.

According to the report, Iran has begun testing about 20 centrifuges used in enriching fuel and is making improvements at its Natanz nuclear facility, about 150 miles south of Tehran. Nuclear experts generally say Iran is years away from being able to carry out the industrial-scale uranium enrichment that would allow it to build a nuclear weapon or explosive device.

The report also said that earlier this week Iranian officials had dismissed as forgeries documents indicating their engineers were planning a small-scale facility to produce uranium gas. The documents were contained in a laptop computer obtained by U.S. intelligence in 2004. Portions of those and other documents purporting to show that Iran was trying to modify ballistic missiles to carry nuclear warheads were shared with the IAEA last year.

The documents' authenticity has not been independently verified.

Inspectors reported that although Iran obtained instructions in the late 1980s for the production of uranium metal -- a substance used to protect the core of a nuclear bomb-- Iranian scientists did not appear to have used them. Iran offered written proof in support of previous claims that it had purchased some sensitive equipment through official channels and not from a nuclear black market run out of Pakistan, the report said.

The report described unexplained "inconsistencies" regarding plutonium experiments conducted at least several years ago and said Iran had acknowledged purchasing other equipment it had previously denied possessing.

Recent inspections of large facilities revealed that the Iranians were having technical or financial difficulties completing a heavy-water reactor in the town of Arak and a fuel manufacturing plant in Isfahan.

The IAEA board voted this month to report Iran to the U.N. Security Council for "many failures and breaches of its obligations to comply" with the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and because of an "absence of confidence that Iran's nuclear program is exclusively for peaceful purposes resulting from the history of concealment."

Linzer reported from Washington.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company