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Iran Defies Deadline On Nuclear Program
Iran began enriching another small quantity last week, but inspectors wrote that there have been more substantial pauses than progress. They noted that the Iranians are working at a much slower pace than the IAEA, outside nuclear experts and some foreign intelligence agencies had forecast.
Iran had said it would be operating three cascades by now, each with 164 centrifuges able to enrich uranium. Instead, one cascade is assembled and is working only sporadically.
"Their progress is far less than expected," said David Albright, a nuclear expert who is president of the Institute for Science and International Security. "Whether it's because of technical problems or self-restraint it's hard to gauge, but I don't think the U.S. can deliver on its promise to get hard sanctions when Iran is barely progressing."
Russia and China were reluctant to impose sanctions even before the report came out, playing down the need just weeks after U.S. officials felt they had received assurances from both countries to support such measures. Although many countries appear to share U.S. suspicions about Iran's intentions, they have profound differences with the Bush administration over how to respond and are apprehensive about the goals of a U.S. president who has said that "all options are on the table" in dealing with Tehran.
"Concerns about a slippery slope toward a military conflict with Iran have hurt U.S. efforts at diplomacy," said Robert J. Einhorn, who was assistant secretary of state for nonproliferation until November 2001. "The administration approaches the idea of negotiations with Iran as if we are prepared to take yes for an answer, but also engages in activities that suggest regime change is the real objective."
U.S. officials have refused to respond to questions about whether they are seeking the removal of Iran's clerical government. But they have given private assurances to allies that they are currently committed to diplomacy.
There were signs yesterday that Europe will maintain a steady role in that process. Larijani, the Iranian official, spoke by phone Saturday and Tuesday with Javier Solana, the senior representative of the European Union, in discussions both sides described as positive.
Privately, Iranian officials have said they would resume cooperation with inspectors and even consider freezing the nuclear program, but only after they restart talks with Europe and Washington.
In addition to several unanswered questions about the history of the program, inspectors detailed new ones in yesterday's report. A cylinder filled with uranium hexafluoride was temporarily moved by a technician at a uranium conversion plant in the town of Isfahan. No materials seem to be missing from the container, but inspectors expressed concern about the incident.
Also, traces of highly enriched uranium, which can be used for the core of a weapon, were discovered through environmental samples taken at another facility. Previous traces were found to have been the result of used and discarded centrifuge equipment the Iranians bought from Pakistan. Officials at the IAEA said privately yesterday that the new contamination appears to be from old spent fuel the Iranians moved out of harm's way during their eight-year war with Iraq.
"I think the only thing that would move opponents of sanctions now is if the agency found unambiguously the 'smoking gun,' " Einhorn said.
Staff writer Michael Abramowitz in Salt Lake City and researcher Julie Tate in Washington contributed to this report.