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Report says Iran nuclear weapons work continued til 2009

A new International Atomic Energy Agency report found that Iran's nuclear program included weapons-related work at least until 2009, much more recent than earlier believed.

By Staff writer / November 8, 2011

In this 2008 photo released by the Iranian President's Office, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visits the Natanz Uranium Enrichment Facility some 200 miles south of Tehran. The International Atomic Energy Agency said Tuesday for the first time that Iran had conducted nuclear-weapons-related experiments as recently as 2009.

Iranian President's Office/AP/File

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Iran has worked for years on activities related to nuclear weapons design, according to a new UN report released today that publicly reveals what it calls "credible" information about Iranian clandestine efforts. 

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The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said the bulk of the work – on a host of activities that could be weapons-related, and were part of a "structured program" – was halted abruptly in late 2003.

The IAEA said a "particular concern" was information that some modeling and other critical design work continued at least until 2009.

"The application of such studies to anything other than a nuclear explosive is unclear to the Agency," the IAEA said, in a 14-page annex to its usual report on Iran's nuclear progress. "It is therefore essential that Iran engage with the Agency and provide an explanation."

The IAEA conclusions in some ways match those of the two US National Intelligence Estimates (NIEs) on Iran in 2007 and earlier this year, which found that Iran had halted a weapons program in late 2003, and had made no decision to go for a bomb.

Iran has consistently rejected accusations that its nuclear power program masks a weapons effort, and has dismissed the intelligence which underlies the IAEA report – much of it first provided to the IAEA by the US six years ago – as "fabricated."

 Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's ambassador to the IAEA, said the report "is unbalanced, unprofessional and politically motivated."

IAEA conclusions

The IAEA reached a similar conclusion in a previous report, in which it registered "serious concerns" about "possible military dimensions to Iran's nuclear program."

Iran's failure to address outstanding issues presented by the intelligence documents, aside from a 117-page explanation in May 2008, meant that Iran was scolded, as in the past, for "not providing the necessary cooperation."

As a result, the IAEA stated that again it is "unable to provide credible assurance... that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities."

Unlike any previous IAEA document, however, the "restricted distribution" report issued today spells out for the first time the precise nature of Iranian activities that have raised such concern in Vienna.

The IAEA report states that the original tranche of more than 1,000 pages of documentation, files, presentations and videos – of a "technically complex and interconnected nature, showing research, development and testing activities over time" – has in recent years been corroborated by data from ten member states and IAEA investigations and interviews.

The initial documentation – which is known to have come largely from a laptop said by the US to have been spirited out of Iran in 2004 – involved studies that focused on a so-called green salt project, high-explosive testing, and re-engineering the warhead of a Shahab-3 missile to fit a specific payload.

In the six years that the IAEA has had access to the original data, the report stated, it has found that the green salt project was part of a larger project "to provide a source of uranium suitable for use in an undisclosed enrichment program," the product of which would be converted into metal "for use in the new warhead" design of the missile re-entry studies.

After 2008, the IAEA said it acquired more documents which established a link "between nuclear material and [the] new payload" development program.

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