U.N. report: Iran has atomic bomb how-to documents
Published: Wednesday, February 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 31, 2006 at 11:35 p.m.
VIENNA, Austria - The U.N. nuclear watchdog agency said in a report Tuesday that Iran obtained documents and drawings on the black market that serve no other purpose than to make an atomic warhead. Tehran warned of an "end of diplomacy" if plans to refer it to the U.N. Security Council are carried out.
The report by the agency, ahead of a meeting of its 35-member board Thursday, also confirmed information recently provided by diplomats familiar with the Iran probe that Tehran has not started small-scale uranium enrichment since announcing it would earlier this month.
Nevertheless, the findings added to pressure to refer Tehran to the Security Council within days. Such a move, Iran said, would lead to a halt in surprise U.N. inspections beginning Saturday and prompt it to resume frozen nuclear activities.
"If it happens, the government will be required under the law to end the suspension of all nuclear activities it has voluntarily halted," Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said late Tuesday, speaking on Iranian television.
Iran insists its nuclear program is civilian only and has no other purpose than to generate power. Enrichment can produce either fuel for a nuclear reactor or the material needed to build a warhead.
European and Russian officials insisted the opportunity for negotiations was not lost, even after envoys from Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States agreed in London overnight to recommend that the IAEA's board report Iran to the council when it meets in Vienna.
The top U.N body has the power to impose economic and political sanctions, but none of those measures is immediately likely.
Under the deal agreed to by Moscow and Beijing - previous opponents of referral -the Security Council will likely await a new IAEA report at the next board meeting in March before deciding on substantive action, leaving more time for talks with Iran.
"For us, the diplomatic path is not closed," French Foreign Ministry spokesman Jean-Baptiste Mattei said in Paris. The process of taking Tehran to the Security Council is "reversible, too, if Iran makes the gestures we're waiting for."
The EU foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, insisted that talk of sanctions was premature. "We are in a diplomatic channel," he said.
But U.S. Ambassador John Bolton called the decision to report Iran to the Security Council a "major step forward."
In an attempt to reassure Tehran, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov underlined that the Council "will not make any (immediate) decisions." Russian and Chinese diplomats will head to Tehran shortly to explain the meaning of the London agreement and urge Iran to meet IAEA demands, he said.
Moscow is trying to prevent the referral from scuttling negotiations it hopes will persuade Iran to accept a compromise proposal moving any Iranian uranium enrichment to Russia to eliminate misuse for a weapons program.
But Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, said a move to the council would "be unconstructive and the end of diplomacy."
"We will have to start all nuclear work that has been voluntarily suspended," Larijani said, though he stopped short of saying explicitly that Iran will restart its uranium enrichment program.
The findings about the design obtained by Iran on the black market was contained in a confidential report for presentation to the 35-nation IAEA board and provided in full to The Associated Press.
The four-page report also criticized Iran for refusing to provide interviews with at least one nuclear scientist linked to the military and dismissing requests for information on "tests related to high explosives and the design of a missile re-entry vehicle, all of which could have a military nuclear dimension."
A three-year IAEA probe has not found firm evidence to back assertions by the United States and others that Iran's nuclear activities are a cover for an arms program but has not been able to dismiss such suspicions either.
First mention of the documents linked to constructing a nuclear warhead was made late last year in a longer IAEA report. At that time, the agency said only that they showed how to cast "enriched, natural and depleted uranium metal into hemispherical forms."
While diplomats familiar with the agency probe into Iran's nuclear program, speaking anonymously, said at the time that the papers apparently were instructions on how to mold highly enriched uranium into the core of warheads, the agency itself refused to make a judgment on what possible uses such casts would have.
In the brief report obtained Tuesday, however, the agency said bluntly that the 15 pages of text and drawings showing how to cast fissile uranium into metal was "related to the fabrication of nuclear weapon components."
Asked about the finding, a senior diplomat close to the IAEA declined to elaborate but emphasized that the documents had no other use. He demanded anonymity in exchange for discussing confidential information.
The report said the documents were under agency seal, meaning that IAEA experts should be able to re-examine it, but "Iran has declined a request to provide the agency with a copy."
The documents in question were given to Iran by members of the nuclear black market network, the IAEA said. Iran has claimed it did not ask for the documents but was given them anyway as part of other black market purchases.
The papers were shown for perusal as part of unrelated documents, leading to speculation among diplomats accredited to the IAEA that Iran had revealed them in error.
The same network provided Libya with drawings of a crude nuclear bomb which that country handed over to the IAEA as part of its 2003 decision to scrap its atomic weapons program.
In other findings, the report confirmed information provided over the past few weeks by diplomats familiar with the Iran probe that Tehran has not started small-scale uranium enrichment since taking off IAEA seals on enrichment equipment Jan. 10-11.
It spoke however of "substantial" maintenance work at Iran's small pilot enrichment plant at Natanz and testing of components there and at another site - all evidence that Iran was planning to resume enrichment.
And it said Iran was continuing to convert material into the uranium gas that is the feed stock for enrichment since restarting that program in November.
Iran's decision to resume uranium conversion led Britain, France and Germany to break off talks meant to persuade Iran to scrap that program and others related to and including enrichment, which can produce both nuclear fuel or the fissile core of warheads.
Its announcement that it would resume small-scale enrichment earlier this month escalated the nuclear crisis, leading to the agreement Monday by the five permanent Security Council members to ask the council to focus on Iran's potential nuclear threat.
Under IAEA rules, a nation can be reported to the Security Council or the U.N. body can be notified of a case. Notification is less serious but the Europeans have not made clear which step they intend to take.
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