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IAEA visit: It's showtime for Iran's nuclear denials

The IAEA team's three-day visit marks the first opportunity for Tehran to rebut allegations of a covert Iranian nuclear weapons program that were made public in November.

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The November IAEA report was billed as a "game changer" before it was published. Based on more than 1,000 pages of data acquired from the United States in 2005, the nuclear watchdog agency said it had "serious concerns" about Iran's work – especially some modeling and other critical design work it says may have continued at least until 2009.

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But former IAEA inspectors have questioned the veracity of the documents, saying that some once dismissed as unreliable appear to have been recycled to step up accusations against Iran.

The IAEA report confirmed – as has every quarterly IAEA safeguards report on Iran for nearly a decade – that the agency detected no diversion of nuclear material for military purposes, and that Iran's known nuclear facilities and uranium enrichment remain under strict IAEA watch.

Separately, two US National Intelligence Estimates on Iran, the latest in February 2011, have concluded that Iran halted weapons-related work in late 2003, and has so far neither resumed such work, nor made a decision to do so.

"Are they trying to develop a nuclear weapon? No," Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told CBS earlier this month.

Speaking again to CBS yesterday, however, Mr. Panetta said the US was watching Iran closely, suggesting that Iran could develop a nuclear weapon in a year if it chose to do so – though it might be another two or three years before Iran had a missile or other delivery vehicle for such a bomb. "If ... we get intelligence that they are proceeding with developing a nuclear weapon, then we will take whatever steps are necessary to stop them," he told 60 Minutes.

The IAEA chief Yukiya Amano has said that in 2012, Iran is "the most important" issue on his agenda.

"I am fully committed to working constructively with Iran and I trust that Iran will approach our forthcoming discussions in an equally constructive spirit," Mr. Amano told the IAEA board in Vienna on Jan. 19.

Higher-enriched uranium to be used in 'coming months'

Despite the increasing pressure, it has been largely business as usual for Iran, which is planning to unveil new military equipment in ceremonies leading up to the 33-year anniversary of the Islamic Revolution on Feb. 11.

And although UN Security Council resolutions require Iran to halt all enrichment activity until it resolves IAEA concerns, Salehi on Monday said that Iran in "coming months" would turn its growing stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium into fuel for its small medical reactor in Tehran – a difficult step that would mark significant technical know-how.

Though still far from the 90 percent required for any weapon, the material is higher than the 3.5 percent low-enriched uranium which makes up the bulk of Iran’s efforts.

Today, Iran's English-language PressTV made little mention of the IAEA team in Iran, instead topping its news with video footage of heavy-handed police arrests of hundreds of Occupy Wall Street protesters in Oakland, CA.

Those protesters "burned the American flag," PressTV reported. It began another news item about Mr. Panetta's statement yesterday, that all options were on the table regarding Iran's nuclear program, with the words: "The US has once again threatened Iran...."

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