UN nuclear chief concerned over possible Iranian activity


VIENNA – The head of the UN’s atomic watchdog says he is increasingly concerned about possible activity in Iran to develop a nuclear missile and has accused Tehran of failing to co-operate fully with his inspectors.

Yukiya Amano, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told the agency’s 35-nation board yesterday that he hoped to “set out in greater detail the basis for the agency’s concerns so that all member states are fully informed”.

Such a move by Mr Amano would add to pressure on Iran, one of the world’s largest oil producers, which is facing tightening international sanctions pressure over a nuclear programme the West suspects has military aims.

“Iran is not providing the necessary co-operation to enable the agency to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities,” Mr Amano said.

He spoke a day after Iran said it was ready for fresh nuclear talks with major powers, and had sent a letter to European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

Iran has recently signalled increased willingness to co-operate with the agency about its nuclear work, which it says is for peaceful purposes.

However western diplomats have dismissed this as an Iranian “charm offensive” without substance and as an apparent attempt by Tehran to buy time, while it refuses to bow to demands to halt sensitive uranium enrichment.

Since talks between global powers and Iran foundered in January, Russia has advocated a phased plan in which Tehran would address concerns and would be rewarded with an easing of sanctions.

Iran has often said it is willing to resume talks. Its insistence though that other countries recognise its right to enrich uranium is a major stumbling block, particularly for western diplomats who see it as an unacceptable pre-condition.

Uranium enriched to a low level of purity is suitable for running nuclear power plants. If refined to a much higher degree, it can form the core of nuclear bombs.

Mr Amano said Iran had demonstrated “greater transparency” during a five-day visit by a senior agency official to the country last month, when it showed facilities to which the agency had not had access for several years. However, greater transparency was needed, he added.

Since the agency board last met in June, Iran had installed uranium enrichment centrifuges in an underground bunker near the holy city of Qom and also informed the agency about planned new uranium conversion activity.

These steps were in “further contravention of Security Council and board of governors resolutions”, Mr Amano said.

Echoing the findings of a confidential agency report this month, Mr Amano told the closed-door meeting, according to a copy of his remarks: “The agency is increasingly concerned about the possible existence in Iran of . . . undisclosed nuclear-related activities involving military-related organisations, including activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile.” – (Reuters)