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Iran admitted wider work with plutonium


VIENNA, Austria - Investigators for the United Nations atomic watchdog agency said in a draft report to be made public today that Iran has acknowledged experimenting with plutonium more recently than was known previously and has yet to fill in crucial information about its efforts to obtain sophisticated centrifuges.

Plutonium can be used to make atomic bombs. The centrifuges that Iran was attempting to acquire can be used to purify uranium for civilian purposes such as electricity generation, but also for the more intensive processing used to manufacture weapons-grade fuel.

The report, scheduled to be delivered to the International Atomic Energy Agency's board of governors by Deputy Director General Pierre Goldschmidt, catalogs questions about Iran's nuclear program. A copy of the report was obtained by several news organizations, including the Los Angeles Times.

Iran has come under intense scrutiny over the past two years after a dissident group revealed that it had taken serious steps toward setting up a uranium enrichment program. Iran insists that its program is only for peaceful purposes, but the United States and some other Western countries believe that Iran seeks the capacity to manufacture nuclear weapons.

As a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran should have disclosed to the agency any activity related to uranium enrichment, regardless of its purpose.

A senior Western diplomat familiar with the report, which is marked "highly confidential," said it raises once again the question of whether Iran is telling everything it knows.

In Washington, State Department officials offered no immediate response to the leaked report.

The head of Iran's delegation to the IAEA board of governors, Sirus Naseri, said the report signaled that the agency's investigation was winding down and that only a few questions were unanswered.

The three-page report underscored three areas of inquiry. Previously, Iran had said it had last experimented with plutonium in 1993. But after more discussions with the IAEA, Iran acknowledged that it had processed some plutonium in 1995 and again in 1998. In a letter dated May 26 this year, Iran confirmed that chronology, according to Goldschmidt's report.

Iran has made available to the IAEA some plutonium used in the experiments so that it can be tested by the agency.

A second open area involves Iran's dealings with the black market network run by Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan and the exact offer he made to the country. The U.N. agency repeatedly has requested information about the initial contacts between Khan's organization and Iran in 1987.

The agency also has requested shipping documents from the early 1990s which would reflect how many shipments of enrichment-related equipment Iran received and the contents of each shipment. There are several inconsistencies between information Iran has given in the past and more recent documents, and the agency believes that if it could see the original shipping documentation many questions could be answered.

Iran's Naseri said the country would cooperate with IAEA investigators. "We will continue to be helpful in any manner we can," he said. "We have delivered to the agency immediately anything we have been able to locate."

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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