Monday, June 18, 2018

Iran rapidly expands nuke work, U.N. agency says

VIENNA — Iran has rapidly ramped up production of higher-grade enriched uranium over the past few months, the U.N. nuclear agency said Friday in a confidential report that feeds concerns about how quickly the Islamic republic could produce an atomic bomb.

The International Atomic Energy Agency report also said Iran failed to give a convincing explanation about a quantity of missing uranium metal. Diplomats say the amount unaccounted for is large enough to be used for experiments in arming a nuclear missile.

Iran insists it is not interested in nuclear weapons and says its activities are meant either to generate energy or to be used for research.

But the report contained little assurances the country's activities are purely peaceful. Instead, it also confirmed that two IAEA missions to Tehran within less than a month had failed to dent Iran's refusal to assist an IAEA investigation of suspicions the country has been secretly working on aspects of a nuclear weapons program.

The IAEA team had hoped to speak with key Iranian scientists suspected of working on the alleged weapons program, break down opposition to their plans to inspect documents related to nuclear work, and secure commitments from Iranian authorities to allow future visits.

But the confidential report said that during those two sets of talks "no agreement was reached between Iran and the agency, as major differences existed with respect to approach."

The report obtained by the Associated Press said the agency continues to have "serious concerns regarding possible military dimensions to Iran's nuclear program."

The issue of suspected weapons-related experiments has been stalled for close to four years, with Iran insisting the allegations are based on doctored intelligence from the United States, Israel and elsewhere.

Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's chief delegate to the IAEA, insisted progress was made. "Iran has started real action and cooperation with the agency regarding … the allegations," he told the AP. "We are determined to work hard with the agency in a professional manner to resolve the issues."

Senior international officials familiar with the talks painted a different picture. One official told the AP that during the last talks, which ended Tuesday, the IAEA team gave the Iranians a 15-page document outlining their concerns, and the Iranians said the claims were false and fabricated. The official asked for anonymity because his information was privileged.

The IAEA team was made up of senior officials, but the international sources described the Iranian negotiating team as go-betweens, with no authority to commit to cooperating with the agency's inquiry. The report said Iran appeared to have a structured weapons-development program up to 2003.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Mark Toner declined to comment on the report, which he said officials were still studying.

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