Mon, May 24, 2004 - Page 6 News List

UN group likely to deliver Iran nuke report this week

AFP , VIENNA, AUSTRIA

The UN nuclear watchdog is aiming to finish this week a crucial report on Iran's atomic program, after Tehran handed in an extensive declaration that it says answers US-led charges it is secretly developing nuclear weapons.

Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will be completing their "assessment later this month," IAEA spokesman Mark Gwozdecky said Saturday, with little more than a week left in the month.

At stake is what the IAEA's 35-nation board of governors will decide when it meets at the agency's headquarters in Vienna on June 14.

The US claims that Iran is hiding a program to build nuclear weapons and has called for the IAEA, which has been investigating the Iranian program since February of last year, to refer the Islamic Republic to the UN Security Council for possible international sanctions.

Iranian ambassador Pirooz Hosseini said Saturday that Iran had submitted late Friday a lengthy declaration on its nuclear program, in comments confirmed by the IAEA.

The report follows one by Iran last October that failed to live up to promises to fully disclose nuclear activities, leaving out such sensitive information as Iran's possession of designs for sophisticated P-2 centrifuges that can enrich uranium to bomb-grade levels.

Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi has said Tehran expects the IAEA probe to be completed by next month.

But diplomats in Vienna said the new Iranian declaration had come too late for the IAEA to be able to evaluate it fully before the board meeting.

One diplomat said the evaluation would involve difficult technical analyses and follow-up tests that could take from six months to a year.

And the UN atomic agency will be unable to make a final finding on Iran at the meeting next month not only because of the late date of the Iranian declaration but also due to Tehran's delaying international inspections, diplomats said.

A delay to a crucial round of inspections in March "threw us out of sequence," an official close to the IAEA said, adding that inspections will have to continue past next month.

Iran delayed inspections after the IAEA board in March condemned it for failing to report key activities such as the P-2.

Gwozdecky said the Iranians had filed the declaration under an additional protocol to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty that mandates tougher inspections.

"This declaration should provide broader information about Iran's nuclear and nuclear-related activities and will facilitate the IAEA's assessment of the correctness and completeness of information already provided by Iran on its past and present nuclear activities," Gwozdecky said.

Iran claims it is solely seeking to develop nuclear energy for peaceful electricity production and needs to enrich uranium as fuel for reactors.

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