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IAEA says it can't confirm Iran nuclear program is peaceful

The IAEA, the UN nuclear watchdog, said Monday that it can't guarantee the Iran nuclear program is exclusively for peaceful purposes, citing insufficient cooperation from the Islamic Republic.

By Staff writer / March 1, 2010

A research plant at Iran's atomic energy agency in Tehran which was opened to the Japanese media on Feb. 22, 2010. The IAEA announced Monday that it can't confirm Iran's nuclear program is peaceful.

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Istanbul, Turkey

The UN’s top nuclear official on Monday said the Islamic Republic was not providing the “necessary cooperation” to guarantee that the Iran nuclear program is for exclusively peaceful purposes.

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The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) assessment comes as Iran has been stepping up uranium enrichment levels and expanding its nuclear fuel cycle plans in recent weeks, moves that have prompted President Barack Obama to warn of tougher sanctions against Iran.

“The agency continues…to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran, but we cannot confirm that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities because Iran has not provided the agency with the necessary cooperation,” Yukiya Amano, the new IAEA chief, told the agency's governing board at the start of its meeting in Vienna this week.

Mr. Amano asked for “clarification of issues related to possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear program,” and that Iran make “full implementation of its safeguards agreement and its other obligations [a] matter of high priority.”

The tougher IAEA line comes as momentum builds in Washington to impose more sanctions upon Iran – a “pressure track” to add to three sets of UN Security Council sanctions and an array of US and European measures that already target Iran.

“The pressure track does not mean that the engagement track is closed,” Glyn Davies, the US Ambassador to the IAEA, said in a recent Monitor interview in Istanbul. “But we are looking for Iranian bona fides. There is such an overhang of issues, it would require a significant change by [the] Iranians.”

The recent back-and-forth with Iran over its nuclear program "has been maximally frustrating" because of the mixed messages from Tehran, said Amb. Davies.

On Monday, Iran took issue with Amano’s remarks. “We have fully cooperated with the agency. This cooperation will continue,” said Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki.

Tougher sanctions?

Analysts expect this week's meeting of the IAEA’s governing board to pave the way for a tougher, fourth set of UN sanctions against Iran as it tussles with the IAEA over unresolved issues that point to a weaponization effort, but are based on US and Western intelligence that Iran says is fabricated.

Efforts by the Obama Administration to engage Tehran in 2009 were set back in part by the violence and political paralysis that have consumed Iran in the aftermath of disputed presidential elections last June.

Among the casualties appears to have been a US-backed IAEA proposal in which Iran would export the bulk of its low-enriched uranium (LEU)— enough, if enriched to much higher levels, to make one nuclear weapon — for fabrication in Russia and France into fuel needed for a research reactor in Tehran.

Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, initially agreed to the deal in Geneva last October – and it was even hailed as a triumph in Iran’s hard-line Kayhan newspaper. But it was quickly scorned by opposition figures who charged that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was giving away the “fruit” of Iran’s nuclear scientists.

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