Fri, Nov 21, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Iran breached its non-proliferation obligations: IAEA

AP , VIENNA

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has identified Russia, China and Pakistan as probable suppliers of some of the technology Iran used to enrich uranium in its suspect nuclear programs, diplomats said yesterday.

The diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity as a key IAEA board meeting on how to react to Iran's nuclear activities adjourned until today. While Iran has acknowledged nearly two decades of concealment, it has recently begun cooperating with the agency in response to international pressure.

The session's adjournment just hours after it started let delegates consult on the wording of a resolution that would satisfy both US calls for strong condemnation of Iran's past cover-ups and European desires to keep Iran cooperating by focusing on its recent openness.

On Wednesday, Washington rejected a proposed European draft resolution that would urge Iran to continue cooperation with the agency but refrain from harshly condemning it for concealing parts of its nuclear program, saying it was prepared to opt for no resolution rather than a toothless one.

That "weak resolution is already history," said one diplomat, suggesting that a compromise resolution satisfying both sides was in the works.

As part of Iran's cooperation, it has suspended uranium enrichment -- an activity that the US had linked to what it says was Iran's nuclear weapons agenda. Iran insists it enriched uranium only to produce electricity.

While acknowledging that some of its equipment had traces of weapons-grade highly enriched uranium, it insists those traces were inadvertently imported on material it purchased abroad. Iran has said it cannot identify the countries of origin because it bought the centrifuges and laser enrichment equipment through third parties.

The Vienna-based IAEA needs to establish where the equipment came from, however, to be able to compare isotope traces in its efforts to verify whether Iran is telling the truth -- or whether it deliberately enriched uranium to nuclear weapons levels.

In recent interviews, IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei has said that five countries and companies in Asia and Europe are the source of the enrichment equipment.

The revelations came amid intense IAEA discussions on a "quite strong" resolution on Iran's past covert nuclear activities that also acknowledges its recent cooperation, ElBaradei said.

Opening yesterday's meeting of the agency's 35-nation board of governors, ElBaradei characterized Iran's recent cooperation as "very encouraging" and said inspectors were getting full access, under new agreements with Tehran.

But ElBaradei said he expected the agency's board to address "the bad news and the good news" in a resolution being drafted to hold Tehran accountable for its past nuclear activities.

"The bad news is that there have been failures and breaches. The good news is that there has been a new chapter in cooperation," he said. "There is an intensive discussion right now on the draft resolution. The latest version being discussed is quite strong."

The agency doesn't know if Iran has tried to build nuclear weapons. That, ElBaradei told the board, "will take some time and much verification effort."

But he welcomed Tehran's recent cooperation with the agency.

"The situation has changed significantly since the middle of last month, when a new chapter of implementation of safeguards in Iran seems to have begun, a chapter that is characterized by active cooperation and openness on the part of Iran," he said in his speech to the closed-door meeting. A copy was made available to reporters.

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