Envoys Say Enriched Uranium Found in Iran
Saturday, May 13, 2006; 1:01 AM
VIENNA, Austria -- U.N. inspectors have found traces of highly enriched uranium on equipment from an Iranian research center linked to the military, diplomats said Friday _ a revelation likely to strengthen U.S. arguments that Tehran wants to develop nuclear arms.
The diplomats, who demanded anonymity in exchange for divulging the confidential information, cautioned that confirmation still had to come through other laboratory tests.
Initially, they said the density of enrichment appeared to be close to or above the level used to make nuclear warheads. But later a diplomat accredited to the International Atomic Energy Agency said it was below that, although higher than the low-enriched material used to generate power and heading toward weapons-grade level.
Still, they said, further analysis could show that the find matches others established to have come from abroad. The IAEA determined earlier traces of highly enriched uranium were imported on equipment from Pakistan that Iran bought on the black market during nearly two decades of clandestine activity.
Even then, nevertheless, the find would be significant.
Because Iran has previously denied conducting enrichment-related activities at the site, the mere fact the traces came from there bolsters arguments that it has hidden parts of a program that can create the fissile material used in nuclear warheads. Additionally, the site's connection to the military weakens Iranian arguments that its nuclear program is purely civilian.
"That has long been suspected as the site of undeclared enrichment research and ... the Iranians have denied that any enrichment research had taken place at that location," said Iran expert Gary Samore of the MacArthur Foundation in Chicago. "It certainly does reinforce the agency's suspicion that Iran has not fully declared its past enrichment research."
The development, however, was unlikely to result in an immediate American push for strong U.N. Security Council action against Tehran.
The Americans recently agreed to put such efforts on hold and give new European-led attempts to find a negotiated solution a chance in the face of fierce Russian and Chinese opposition to a strong signal from the council.
Moscow and Beijing have balked at British, French and U.S. efforts to put a Security Council resolution under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter. Such a move would declare Iran a threat to international peace and security and set the stage for further measures if Tehran refuses to suspend uranium enrichment. Those measures could range from breaking diplomatic relations to economic sanctions and military action.
Despite their declared support for the European effort to persuade Iran to give up enrichment, the Americans are ignoring calls for direct contacts with Iran _ a stance criticized Friday by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
Calling on "all sides to lower the rhetoric," Annan said Washington should "come to the table" and join the Europeans and Iranians.