Sun, Oct 26, 2003 - Page 7 News List

Iran admits to minor nuclear safety failures

AFP , VIENNA

Iran admits to failures in honoring commitments to nuclear safeguards in a new report filed to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), but still denies trying to develop nuclear weapons, the Iranian representative to the UN's atomic watchdog said Friday.

The statement to AFP by Ali Akbar Salehi, the Iranian ambassador to the IAEA, was a first indication of the contents of the report, which was submitted by Iran on Thursday, just one week before the IAEA's Oct. 31 deadline for the Islamic Republic to prove it is not secretly trying to make the bomb.

Salehi said there were disclosures in the report of "what could be considered failures" to adhere to the safeguards regime of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), of which Iran is a signatory.

He said these were "in the same line" as failures by Iran the IAEA had listed in a report in June.

Salehi said the new failures involved "some lab tests" but he did not provide details.

The US accuses Iran of secretly working to manufacture highly enriched uranium, which can be used to make atomic bombs, and says Tehran should be judged in non-compliance with the NPT regime, something which would oblige the IAEA to report Iran to the UN Security Council.

The IAEA board of governors is to meet on Nov. 20 to judge Iranian compliance.

Salehi said the failures were "not significant, not of importance but we felt we had to reveal it anyway" in order to answer the IAEA's questions about its nuclear activities.

"We are certain of what we are doing," Salehi said.

"It is 100-percent clear that Iran has never been involved in anything that would indicate it was involved in a nuclear weapons program," Salehi said.

In June, IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei said in a report: "Iran has failed to meet its obligations under its (NPT) safeguards agreement with respect to the reporting of nuclear material, the subsequent processing and use of that material and the declaration of facilities where the material was stored and processed."

Salehi said in June: "The crux of the [ElBaradei] report in front of us deals only with a small amount of 0.13 effective kilogram of natural uranium that we imported in 1991" and that was not reported at the time.

A Western diplomat close to the IAEA said Salehi's disclosure on Friday of safeguards failures "may be a result of being confronted by IAEA inspectors with evidence that was hard otherwise to justify."

He said Iran seemed to be "clearly setting up their defense."

Another Western diplomat said that if the Iranian report "is anywhere near accurate, there should be a catalogue of a number of acts of non-compliance of safeguards agreements."

"That would suggest there will be grounds for a non-compliance resolution," the diplomat said.

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