Report raises doubts on Iran


VIENNA, Austria -- Iran has done next to nothing to respond to international demands to halt its uranium enrichment program and provide information about its nuclear activities, according to a confidential report by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The report, which is expected to be sent to the U.N. Security Council in two weeks for debate over possible sanctions, stops short of an outright condemnation of Tehran's activities. But it raises grave doubts about the intent of Iran's nuclear program and says the agency cannot rule out that Tehran may be breaching the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

The report by the agency's director general, Mohamed ElBaradei, a copy of which was obtained by the Los Angeles Times, stopped short of saying that Iran's aims might not be peaceful. Instead, it said Iran's failure to provide requested information meant that the agency could not say that there were no undeclared nuclear materials or activities.

However, ElBaradei's report also found no evidence that nuclear material had been diverted toward building a weapon.

Countries that sign the nonproliferation treaty must disclose to the U.N. atomic energy agency all nuclear material.

"To clarify these uncertainties, Iran's full transparency is still essential," said ElBaradei's report.

The report, submitted yesterday to the atomic agency's governing board, also noted that Iran had failed to take any of the steps demanded by the board at its meeting this month.

To the contrary, Iran is testing 20 centrifuges, a process essential to developing a full-scale capacity to enrich uranium.

"They were asked to suspend all enrichment activities; they started small-scale research and development. They were asked to ratify and implement the additional protocol; they suspended it. They were asked to take transparency measures," said a senior official familiar with the IAEA's Iran probe.

The additional protocol gives inspectors broader latitude to look at workshops where nuclear processing machinery is made and to inspect more sites.

The report, drafted for next week's meeting of the 35-nation IAEA board, will play a key role in determining the international community's steps to persuade Iran to halt its nuclear program.

After the board review, it will be sent to the Security Council, which is to start considering the matter the week of March 13, according to U.S. diplomats.

The IAEA board had already reported Iran to the U.N. Security Council but agreed to delay the delivery of its report until after the March 6 IAEA board meeting. The hiatus was a compromise to placate China and Russia and to give diplomacy another chance.

It is apparent that Iran responded to its chance at diplomacy by trying to answer some of the weapons inspectors' questions, and by making available to weapons inspectors a scientist who ran a research laboratory.

The tactic appears to be aimed at making it more difficult for the Security Council to take any strong action against Iran.

Tehran also is in intensive talks with Russia about a joint uranium enrichment facility on Russian soil. Iran has been unwilling to give up its right to continue to enrich uranium within its own borders.

"Iran has a track record that before every board meeting, they try to give a little to the agency in the hopes that they will get undue credit for it in the agency's report," said a U.S. diplomat who had reviewed the document.

Agency reports over three years show Iran has been working steadily to obtain and manufacture the equipment to perform uranium enrichment and to perfect the delicate enrichment process. Uranium must be enriched to be used in nuclear power plants, but higher levels of enrichment are required for a bomb.

Alissa J. Rubin writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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