U.N. Agency Finds Iran Noncompliant
Friday, April 28, 2006
Despite a formal request from the U.N. Security Council, Iran has not provided international inspectors with new information about the country's nuclear program and has accelerated, rather than curbed, uranium-enrichment activities, according to sources familiar with a report the inspectors plan to issue today.
Iran announced two weeks ago that it had used a "cascade" -- or array -- of 164 centrifuges to enrich uranium for nuclear fuel. Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency are expected to confirm in the report that Iran ran the cascade successfully, but several officials with knowledge of the nuclear program said yesterday that the cascade was no longer operating and that a number of the networked centrifuges had crashed during a fairly rushed process.
It remains unclear whether Iran managed to enrich a small quantity of uranium to a level of 3.5 percent, as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced April 11. That level would suffice for nuclear energy but is far too low for a weapons program, which the Bush administration contends Iran is clandestinely developing.
The IAEA will include these findings, sources said, in what they characterized as a brief and highly negative report to be delivered today, the end of a 30-day deadline the Security Council set for Iran to stop enriching uranium until inspectors are confident the program is exclusively peaceful.
"It's pretty clear Iran is not going to meet those requirements," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said yesterday. "When that happens, the international community, represented by the Security Council, is going to have a choice."
The Bush administration is hoping that the report, and Iran's actions, will make it easier for council members to increase pressure on Iran. The council's March request, along with others by the IAEA's board of directors, asked Iran to voluntarily suspend its enrichment program.
On Monday, diplomats from the United States, Britain and France will begin pushing for a resolution that would legally obligate Iran to abide by the council's demands, officials said. If Iran balks, the trio would then pursue international sanctions, either through the Security Council or with like-minded allies, administration officials and European diplomats have said.
But Russia and China -- both with strong economic ties to Tehran and the power to veto Security Council resolutions -- remain at odds with the other three over how much pressure to exert. Both fear that additional measures will lead to an escalation in tensions and spark a global oil crisis. Other council members are concerned that Washington is using the diplomatic process as a steppingstone toward military action.
Iran's ambassador to the United Nations, Javad Zarif, maintained yesterday that the Security Council has no right to demand a halt to his country's nuclear energy program and that Iran would not abide by a resolution requiring it do so.
"If the Security Council decides to take decisions that are not within its competence, then Iran does not feel obliged to obey," he said. Zarif said he anticipates a major U.S. campaign in the Security Council to win such a resolution.
Iran says its industrial-scale program, built in secret over 18 years, is designed to produce fuel for nuclear energy. But Washington and a growing number of allies believe that Iran plans to divert its equipment and know-how for bomb development. Inspectors, on their third year of an investigation, have not found proof of a weapons program, but Iran is not fully cooperating and questions remain.
While the Iranians are publicly defiant, they have offered in private talks with senior European officials to slow down the program if Washington, London and Paris back away from Security Council action. Several European diplomats called the offer unacceptable. "A technical pause is not a concession and not an offer," one diplomat said. "The Iranians need to deal in substance, not timelines."
Late yesterday, as inspectors were putting the finishing touches on their report, Mohammad Saeedi, Iran's deputy nuclear director, submitted a written time frame for cooperation on a number of issues. The IAEA report, officials said, is expected to note the eleventh-hour pledge, but agency officials said privately that the Iranians are straining the agency's patience. Ali Larijani, the Iranian national security adviser, made nearly identical promises in a meeting in Tehran two weeks ago with IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei but delivered nothing beyond the additional written guarantee, they said.
Inspectors have made some progress on their own, however. Preliminary test results from a visit to an Iranian facility this month seem to indicate the presence of nuclear materials but will require further study, according to two officials who have seen parts of the IAEA report.
Concerns about Iran's program have grown since 2002, when Iranian dissidents revealed the existence of an industrial-scale enrichment facility inside the country. Since then, IAEA inspectors have found evidence of uranium and plutonium experiments as well as purchase orders, equipment and instructions from a Pakistani-run nuclear black market.
Moore reported from Paris. Staff writer Colum Lynch at the United Nations contributed to this report.