03 February 2006

IAEA report on Iran paints picture that is far from bleak

In its latest report prepared for the February 2-3 extraordinary meeting of the Board of Governors , the IAEA says some questions still remain but cites numerous instances of Iranian cooperation with inspectors.

3 February 2006
The Hindu

Iran & the IAEA

Latest report paints picture that is far from bleak

Siddharth Varadarajan

AN INTERIM report prepared by the International Atomic Energy Agency on the implementation of nuclear safeguards in Iran has cited numerous instances of Iranian cooperation with its inspectors but has also stressed the need for Teheran to provide further information on three outstanding issues relating to past activities.

The confidential `update brief' prepared by IAEA Deputy Director-General Olli Heinonen — a copy of which is with The Hindu — contains no new allegations or facts based on discoveries the agency might have made in Iran during its visits in November and January. However, the report says that a 15-page document voluntarily shown by Iran to IAEA inspectors for the reduction of UF6 to metal in small quantities and the casting of enriched and depleted uranium metal into hemispheres was "related to the fabrication of nuclear weapon components." The report adds: "[The document] did not, however, include dimensions or other specifications for machined pieces for such components."

Though the draft resolution circulated by the U.S. at the IAEA Board of Governors meeting in Vienna on Thursday refers twice to this issue, the document in question was actually first made available to IAEA inspectors last year and its existence was duly noted in the Director-General's report on November 18, 2005.

Pointing to the availability of bomb-making manuals on the Internet, a senior Indian nuclear scientist told The Hindu on condition of anonymity that the document in question was not the smoking gun the U.S. and its allies believed it to be. The Iranians have said the document was provided to them on the initiative of the Khan network and "not at the request of the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran (AEOI)." Observers also believe the fact that Iran voluntarily showed the document to the IAEA despite its potentially incriminating nature makes the official explanation for its existence more credible.

In general, the latest IAEA report notes: "Iran has continued to facilitate access under its Safeguards Agreement as requested by the Agency, and to act as if the Additional Protocol is in force, including by providing in a timely manner the requisite declarations and access to locations."

Among the acts of Iranian cooperation cited are the provision of additional information on its enrichment programme, the confirmation of the purchase by a contractor of magnets for the P-2 centrifuge design, providing access to a military site at Parchin, and the presentation of "documentation the Agency had previously requested on efforts by Iran, which it has stated were unsuccessful, to acquire a number of specific dual use items." In addition, high vacuum equipment, high strength aluminium and corrosion resistant steel, valves, and filters were made available to inspectors for environmental sampling.

On the negative side, the IAEA said the Iranians refused to allow inspectors to interview a professor who used to be head of the Physics Research Centre at the former military complex at Lavisan-Shian. However, the granting of such interviews are not mandatory under the terms of either the Safeguards Agreement or the Additional Protocol. The IAEA is also still seeking clarification on the timing and purpose of certain trips taken by AEOI scientists in the mid-1990s. All told, the three issues remaining are questions on the extent of the P-1 and P-2 centrifuge programmes and the use the above-mentioned professor might have had for the dual-use equipment he had ordered.

The only new issue to figure in the report is an unconfirmed allegation based on "information that has been made available to the Agency," a euphemism for material provided by the intelligence services of an IAEA Board member, presumably the U.S. This information is "about alleged studies, known as the Green Salt Project, concerning the conversion of uranium dioxide into UF4 ["green salt"], as well as tests related to high explosives and the design of a missile re-entry vehicle, all of which could have a military nuclear dimension and which appear to have administrative interconnections."

Indian nuclear scientists have told The Hindu that UF4 is an "intermediate product" which had legitimate civilian uses. In any event, the Iranian government told the IAEA on January 23 that the "issues related to baseless allegations" but agreed to "provide further clarifications later."

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