U.N. weapons inspectors have amassed a trove of new evidence that they say makes a "credible" case that "Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear device," and that the project may still be under way.
The long-awaited report, released Tuesday by the International Atomic Energy Agency, represents the strongest judgment the agency has issued in its decade-long struggle to pierce the secrecy surrounding the Iranian program. The findings, drawn from evidence of far greater scope and depth than the agency has previously made public, have already rekindled a debate among the Western allies and Israel about whether increased diplomatic pressure, sanctions, sabotage or military action could stop Iran's program.
Knowing that their findings would be compared with the flawed Iraq intelligence that preceded the 2003 invasion — and has complicated U.S. moves on Iran — the inspectors devoted a section of the report to "credibility of information." The information was from more than 10 countries and from independent sources, they said; some was backed up by interviews with foreigners who had helped Iran.
The report laid out the case that Iran had moved far beyond the blackboard to create computer models of nuclear explosions in 2008 and 2009 and conducted experiments on nuclear triggers. It said the simulations focused on how shock waves from conventional explosives could compress the spherical fuel at the core of a nuclear device, which starts the chain reaction that ends in nuclear explosion.
The report does not claim that Iran has mastered all the necessary technologies, or estimate how long it would take for Iran to be able to produce a nuclear weapon.
Iran quickly rejected the report's findings.
"The report of the International Atomic Energy Agency is unbalanced, unprofessional and politically motivated," Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's representative to the IAEA, was quoted as saying by the country's official Islamic Republic News Agency.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran said the U.N. agency should instead investigate the U.S. nuclear arsenal.
"If the agency is after the truth, why has it not released any report on the U.S. atomic bombs concealed in 1,000 of its military bases?" Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying by the semiofficial Fars news agency.
Iranian officials have said the evidence is fabricated, and some have warned that any attempt by the West to stop its program could invite retaliation.