By Joby Warrick and Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, February 23, 2008
The Bush administration stepped up its campaign for tougher sanctions against Iran yesterday after a U.N. report concluded that Tehran had not fully come clean about past activities that U.S. experts say were part of a secret nuclear weapons program.
The report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) also said Iran is making steady progress in producing enriched uranium -- a crucial ingredient in both nuclear weapons and commercial nuclear power -- in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions. But the nuclear watchdog reported no evidence that Iran is seeking to build a nuclear device.
The mixed verdict provided fresh ammunition for a White House that is seeking to rally international support for a third U.N. resolution imposing sanctions against the Islamic republic. Hours after the release of the report in Vienna, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said there were now "very strong" grounds for moving quickly at the United Nations to pass such a resolution.
Iran "is clearly making all kinds of statements that suggest that it's not going to deal with the will of the international community," Rice said. "It hasn't answered questions about past activities in covert programs that they say they didn't have."
As she spoke, the State Department was beginning to lobby allies to pass the long-delayed sanctions resolution against Iran. The department announced it will host talks on Monday among the world's major powers, including Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany, in the hope of getting the resolution passed.
The IAEA concluded that Iran had provided answers to most questions about its nuclear past, with a key exception: It has not yet responded credibly to U.S. allegations that it conducted weapons research into high explosives and missile design in the 1990s.
Those allegations, based on documents taken from a stolen Iranian laptop in 2004, are part of a highly detailed case made by U.S. officials to show that Iran had conducted research into building nuclear weapons through the 1990s. U.S. intelligence agencies concluded last year that Iran ended its weapons research in 2003.
IAEA officials confronted Iran this month with evidence of its past weapons research, as supplied by the Bush administration. But Iran, which has never acknowledged possessing nuclear weapons, told IAEA officials that the U.S. claims were "baseless" and dismissed the supporting documents as "fabrications," the IAEA report said. The agency said it plans to share original copies of the U.S. evidence with Iran, following a White House decision last week to allow Iran to inspect the materials on which the U.S. claims are based.
Resolving questions about the laptop documents is key to understanding "the full nature of Iran's past nuclear program," a senior IAEA official said. "We have moved forward, but we are not yet at the end of the road."
In the Iranian capital, the country's top nuclear negotiator hailed the report as a vindication of Tehran's nuclear policies. "The report showed that our activities are peaceful," Saeed Jalili said at a news conference. "From our viewpoint, this issue has ended."
Iranian state television showed celebratory clips of the Iranian flag, the country's unfinished nuclear reactor at Bushehr and colorful flowers. The West "wanted to say that Iran's nuclear activities had been diverted from the peaceful path. Today the agency . . . accepted all of these [allegations] were false," Jalili said.
But even as Iran toasted its success, the Bush administration was setting a course for passage of a sanctions resolution within two weeks. Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said the IAEA's findings strengthen the U.S. case for sanctions while demonstrating that Tehran continues to violate U.N. resolutions calling for the suspension of uranium enrichment.
The report contained a "number of things that were quite disturbing," Khalilzad said, citing Iran's refusal to corroborate U.S. claims that it had operated a military program for nuclear weapons. "They did not own up to it," Khalilzad told reporters at a luncheon at his New York residence. "They did not come clean."
"Yes, they have answered some questions and made some progress on some issues," he said. "But those are not the most central issues, and on the most central issues of the past, there is no progress. In fact, things are getting worse."
The debate over sanctions is expected to be intense. Four countries currently on the Security Council, South Africa, Libya, Indonesia and Vietnam, have expressed reservations about a third resolution against Iran. Opposition from Russia and China had forced the White House to scale back plans for harsh sanctions that would target Iran's military. Instead, a weakened compromise crafted at talks in Berlin on Jan. 22 calls for largely voluntary steps in monitoring financial transactions, arms sales and travel by senior officials linked to proliferation.
Staff writer Colum Lynch at the United Nations and special correspondent Thomas Erdbrink in Tehran contributed to this report.