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Nuke inspectors at 'dead end' in Iran. More sanctions ahead?

Washington warns of new sanctions after a UN report says Iran is expanding nuclear enrichment activities.

By Staff writer / September 16, 2008

Istanbul, Turkey

Iran has stopped providing information to United Nations nuclear inspectors about allegations that it harbors a secret weapons program, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported Monday.

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"Iran so far has not been forthcoming in replying to our questions, and we seem to be at a dead end there," said a senior UN official on Monday.

The report comes as speculation persists about an Israeli, or even American, strike against Iran's nuclear infrastructure to set back a program they insist aspires to build an atomic bomb. Iran says its sole ambition is to produce nuclear power.

"The IAEA has no interest in provoking a US confrontation with Iran," says Natalie Goldring, at the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University in Washington, noting the IAEA's history of detailed factual work.

"The unfortunate aspect of this sort of report is that it does encourage the hardliners of the Bush administration who would like 'do something' about Iran before leaving office."

"This is very high stakes, and I am somewhat surprised that the Iranians have proceeded in this direction," says Ms. Goldring. "I think the risks of conflict are unacceptably high, and I don't think either the US or Iran are helping with that."

In May, Tehran provided the UN with what it called a "final" 117-page presentation to address charges that it says resulted from forgeries to show weapons-related work in Iran. Since then, lack of Iranian cooperation has led to the impasse with the IAEA.

In Washington, news of the IAEA report provoked talk of additional sanctions against Iran.

The White House said the report showed "once again that Iran is refusing to cooperate with the international community," said spokesman Gordon Johndroe. Iran would face "further implementation of the existing United Nations Security Council sanctions and the possibility of new sanctions" if it did not suspend uranium enrichment, he said.

The US has led efforts to impose three rounds of UN sanctions against Iran and further US and European sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program.

UN Security Council resolutions require Iran to suspend all enrichment activities, but Monday's report notes that Iran has expanded the number of centrifuges enriching uranium to 3,820, up from 3,300 in May, and that some 2,000 more are being installed.

A senior Iranian official quoted by Reuters said the IAEA was to blame for the impasse and that the nuclear agency should work in a "legal and logical" manner.

Before the report was given to the 35-nation IAEA Board of Governors, an Iranian government spokesman said the IAEA should "conduct itself based on its own regulations and not be affected by outside pressure, including US pressure."