The UN nuclear watchdog chief said on Monday he would pursue an investigation into intelligence reports that say Iran secretly studied how to make atomic bombs.
Iran's envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency said the intelligence was fake and said an IAEA report on February 22 showed Iran had answered all outstanding questions and certified its nuclear intentions were wholly peaceful.
IAEA Director Mohamed El Baradei disputed this, saying that while improved Iranian transparency had settled some doubts about its activities, intelligence suggesting Tehran sought to "weaponise" nuclear materials remained a pressing issue.
"Iran continues to maintain that these alleged weaponisation studies are related to conventional weapons only or fabricated. However a full-fledged examination of this issue has yet to take place," he said in a speech opening an IAEA governors meeting.
"I urge Iran to be as active and co-operative as possible in working with the agency to clarify this matter of serious concern," he told the 35-nation policy-making body.
Iran has pursued a uranium-enrichment programme it says is meant only to generate electricity, but whose centrifuge technology could be turned to yielding atomic bombs.
Western concerns grew last week after an IAEA presentation to diplomats of diagrams, slides and video pointing to links in Iran between projects to process uranium, test high explosives and modify a missile cone for a nuclear payload.
Suspicions of Iranian intentions, fanned by Iran's past concealment of nuclear work and continued curbs on UN inspections, were expected to produce a UN Security Council vote later on Monday to toughen sanctions against Tehran.
FRESH IAEA RESOLUTION ON IRAN?
If more sanctions are adopted, Western missions on the IAEA board may propose a resolution to bolster IAEA investigators politically by calling on Iran prove the intelligence is false.
It would be the first such measure by IAEA governors since they referred Tehran to the Security Council two years ago on suspicion of having run a covert nuclear arms programme.
Gregory Schulte, US ambassador to the IAEA, told reporters: "Between the indications of weapons work, which would constitute a violation of Iran's [Non-Proliferation Treaty] obligations, and Iran's blatant violation of Security Council resolutions [demanding an enrichment halt], there is strong reason for Iran's file to remain open in New York and Vienna."
El Baradei said IAEA investigators had detected no illicit use of nuclear material in the suspected weaponisation studies, "nor does it have credible information in this regard".
But he made clear the IAEA was determined to resolve the matter by seeking to verify the intelligence, much of it from a laptop smuggled out of Iran by a defector in 2004 and passed to Washington, and get satisfactory explanations from Iran.
The presentation by El Baradei's safeguards chief detailed explosives and missile warhead experiments with no logical goal except for an atomic bomb, according to a summary compiled by diplomats there and given to Reuters.
Iran's IAEA Ambassador Ali Ashgar Soltanieh said the information was false and Tehran would have nothing more to say about it to the agency.
He said Iran would have a "reciprocal response" to further Security Council action and suggested the IAEA would suffer.
"[These] resolutions are arrows aiming at the heart of the agency and the resolution will undoubtedly weaken its authority and its credibility and independent role," he told reporters.
El Baradei said it was "obviously encouraging" that Iran since November had clarified other issues lingering since 2003, and allowed one-off visits to advanced nuclear research sites.
But he said Iran could only restore trust that it was not hiding any parallel military nuclear effort if it adopted the IAEA's Additional Protocol, allowing unfettered snap inspections going beyond its two declared nuclear production sites. (Reuters)
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