U.N. nuclear watchdog faults Iran's lack of cooperation
A critical IAEA report could spur a new round of sanctions. Iran maintains its enrichment program is peaceful.
A new report by the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) says Iran has failed to come clean on its uranium enrichment program and that it has serious concerns over alleged research into nuclear weapons.
The critical report released to the UN Security Council on Monday is likely to buttress calls by the US and other Western countries for new sanctions on Iran. Iranian officials say they have cooperated with the IAEA and will continue to enrich uranium for future power generation, not for military purposes.
Last week, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Iranian banks may face further curbs on international trade under measures designed to pressure Iran into stopping its nuclear program. She said Iran's economy was already suffering as a result of successive sanctions and she warned that Iran faced further sanctions if it failed to fall into line with nuclear inspections, reported the Associated Press. The UN Security Council agreed to a third round of economic sanctions on Iran in March.
European countries have proposed incentives for Iran to suspend enrichment of uranium, a key step toward acquiring nuclear weaponry. These include supplying Iran with enriched uranium for use in nuclear power stations. EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said Monday he had a new offer to present to Iranian leaders, a revised version of a previous package, Bloomberg reports, though the details of the offer haven't been made public.
The New York Times says that the IAEA report uses unusually blunt language to spell out Iran's lack of cooperation on key issues, though the agency says it still needs more time to produce a definitive assessment of Iran's nuclear activities. The report lists 18 leaked documents – dismissed as forgeries by Iran – that indicate past efforts to develop nuclear missile technology. Last December, US intelligence agencies concluded that Iran had suspended work on designing a nuclear warhead in 2003 due to international pressure, but said it was unclear if this work had resumed.
Iran's ambassador to the IAEA said the report shows that its nuclear program was peaceful and not for military purposes, reports Reuters, citing an Iranian news agency. Ali Asghar Soltanieh said US allegation of secret missiles programs were "baseless" and that Iran had been vindicated by the report. He didn't comment on the IAEA's criticism of Iran's withholding of information on missile-related activities.
Earlier this month, Iran presented its own document to the five permanent UN Security Council members and Germany that proposes ways to defuse global security tensions, reports Asia Times. While the Bush administration gave a cool response to the "Proposed Package for Constructive Negotiations," Iran may be offering a way out of the diplomatic stalemate by asking existing nuclear powers to improve access to peaceful nuclear technology. A key proposal is to create an international uranium-enrichment facility in Iran. The Asia Times argues that bringing Iran into regional security talks could be a quid pro quo for scaling back its nuclear ambitions.
Britain's Guardian reports that Iran agreed an action plan last year with the IAEA that was supposed to clarify several outstanding issues and allow inspectors into nuclear facilities. But many of the same questions remain, including the alleged Iranian weapons program that the IAEA report describes as a "serious concern."
Policymakers in Washington and the Middle East aren't ruling out a US military strike against Iran on Bush's watch, TIME magazine reported. While the US Congress is wary of the White House's saber-rattling, Bush probably received encouragement for a harder line during his recent trip to Israel, where Iranian nuclear capacity is widely seen as an existential threat. A senior US adviser on the trip reportedly told Israeli officials that Bush was ready to attack Iran, but faced objections from Ms. Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates. The White House has denied this claim.
Iran's nuclear ambitions are already spurring a preemptive arms race in the Middle East, according to a new report by Britain's International Institute of Strategic Studies, says The Daily Telegraph. The IISS said last week that Iran's neighbors are investing in civil nuclear programs that would allow them to develop bombs in the event of Iran developing nuclear weapons. Since 2006, 13 Middle East countries have unveiled new plans – or overhauled existing ones – to generate electricity from nuclear fuel, an apparent reaction to Iran's decision to resume uranium enrichment after a suspension period.