Iran slowing nuclear activities, U.N. says

Critics say energy agency report cedes too much to Tehran

August 31, 2007|By Borzou Daragahi | Borzou Daragahi,LOS ANGELES TIMES

CAIRO, Egypt -- Iran has slowed its nuclear activities and is cooperating more fully in clearing up questions about its efforts, but the country continues to expand its enrichment of uranium, according to a U.N. agency report cited by arms experts and news accounts.

U.S. and European officials have said they suspect that Iran's civilian nuclear energy program masks a clandestine effort to obtain technology that could be used in the making of an atomic bomb. They have threatened to impose a fourth round of sanctions on Tehran when the U.N. Security Council takes up the issue again, probably next month.

The International Atomic Energy Agency distributed limited copies of its report ahead of a Sept. 10 meeting of the 35-member group's board. The findings reflect an Aug. 21 agency agreement with Tehran that Iranian officials began publicizing several days ago. That accord said that there were "no other remaining issues and ambiguities regarding Iran's past nuclear program and activities."

"The work plan is a significant step forward," the IAEA report said of last week's agreement, according to an account by Reuters news agency. Reuters quoted a senior U.N. official as saying Iranian efforts to enrich uranium had slowed.

The report warned, however, that Iran needs "to continue to build confidence about the scope and nature of its present and future nuclear program."

Iran shrugged off that caution and took the diplomatic offensive yesterday, highlighting its cooperation with the IAEA in apparent hopes of staving off a further round of international sanctions.

"The report emphasized once again that there exists no sign or evidence indicating diversion of Iran's nuclear activities and that all Iran's nuclear materials have been audited," Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's representative to the IAEA, told Tehran's Fars News Agency.

Assertions by Iranians and the U.N. agency that there were "no other remaining issues or ambiguities" outraged nonproliferation experts, who said the IAEA was ceding too much to Iran.

"The idea of closing files violates fundamental safeguards principles," arms control experts David Albright and Jacqueline Shire of the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security wrote in a criticism published this week.

Most Western nonproliferation experts said the latest agreement contained little that could dissuade key policymakers in Washington, London, Paris and Berlin from pushing forward with another round of Security Council sanctions.

Independent experts said Iran's latest agreement with the IAEA, which gives inspectors access to more nuclear sites and information, falls well short of the West's demand to halt the production of the concentrated uranium that could be used for a bomb.

That concern was echoed yesterday by Bush administration officials.

Tom Casey, a State Department spokesman, said that while the report "may offer some new details or some new insight into how Iran's program is developing, the fact of the matter is that they have not met any of their international obligations in this regard."

Borzou Daragahi writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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