Iran's Bushehr nuclear reactor 311 Reu.
(photo credit: Raheb Homavandi / Reuters)
VIENNA - The UN nuclear watchdog is expected to publish intelligence
soon pointing to military dimensions to Iran's nuclear activities but
stopping short of saying explicitly that Tehran is trying to build atom
bombs, Western diplomats say.
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Russian and Chinese reluctance may
frustrate any Western bid to seize on next month's report by the UN
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to press for expanded United
Nations sanctions on Iran, a major oil producer.
and Beijing signaled concern last week that the timing of the IAEA
document could damage any chances for diplomacy to resolve the nuclear
In contrast, Western envoys believe the report -- which they
portray as incriminating for Iran -- will pile further pressure on the
country to curb its sensitive nuclear work and address international
concerns about its aims.
"We are in favor of a strong report,"
one Western official said. "The IAEA has a lot of information that would
allow the agency to come to clear findings on the issue of possible
military dimensions" of Iran's nuclear program.
The different views indicate divisions among the six major powers
involved in the search for a diplomatic solution to the long-running
dispute over Iran's nuclear program -- the United States, Germany,
France, Britain, China and Russia.
Western powers believe Iran is secretly trying to develop nuclear
weapons, but Tehran denies this, saying it is enriching uranium only to
power reactors for electricity generation.
Western diplomats say Russia and China may be unwilling to back any move
at a mid-November meeting of the IAEA's 35-nation governing board to
refer Iran once again to the UN Security Council, based on the agency's
"The follow-up to the next (IAEA) report is going to be critical, but it
doesn't necessarily need to involve a new UN Security Council
resolution," said analyst Peter Crail of the Washington-based Arms
"If the details in the report do point to work on developing a nuclear
warhead, the board members should adopt a resolution that at the very
least condemns such activities and calls for Iran to cooperate with the
Russia, which has commercial and other links with Iran, has proposed a
step-by-step effort to defuse the nuclear standoff, but Western
diplomats have given the plan a cool response.
European Union leaders warned Iran on Sunday it would face tougher
sanctions if it failed to respond to concerns about its nuclear
Two days earlier EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton -- who handles
contacts with Iran for the six powers -- told Tehran that talks could
resume soon if it was ready to "engage seriously in meaningful
Report unlikely to give decisive, 'Syria-style' conclusions
IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano said last month he would soon set out
in greater detail the reasons for his growing concern that Iran may be
working to develop nuclear weapons.
Western diplomats believe he will publish significant amounts of
information on this in his next quarterly report on Iran's nuclear
program, due in early November.
They say it is likely to include intelligence about work which can have
both military and civilian uses, and work which would make little sense
for activities not related to weapons development. It may also give
names, locations and dates.
"Iranian experts have conducted experiments with neutron sources and
highly explosive detonators that would only make sense for military
applications," former IAEA deputy director general Olli Heinonen told Der Spiegel
For several years the IAEA has been investigating Western intelligence
reports indicating that Iran has joined together efforts to process
uranium, test high explosives and revamp a ballistic missile cone to
accommodate a nuclear warhead.
The IAEA has said in previous reports that the data it has obtained
about such issues is extensive and comprehensive, and also "broadly
consistent and credible."
The IAEA has "received countless pieces of information on Iran's nuclear
activities from governments and other sources," one Western envoy in
the Austrian capital said.
Iran has routinely dismissed the accusations as baseless and forged,
insisting its nuclear program is aimed at producing electricity so that
it can sell gas and oil abroad.
But its history of concealing sensitive nuclear activity and its refusal
to suspend work that can also yield atomic bombs have drawn four rounds
of UN sanctions, as well as separate sanctions imposed by the United
States and the European Union.
The United States has called on Amano to make his "best assessment" of
whether there have been military dimensions to Iran's nuclear work and
whether that may still be the case.
But several diplomats said he is unlikely to come to a conclusion
regarding Iran as clear-cut as the one about Syria in a report in May,
when he said a facility bombed by Israel in 2007 was "very likely" to
have been a secret nuclear reactor.
Iran's nuclear activities are spread out geographically and any military
work would take place in secrecy beyond the reach of UN inspectors.
"To come to a Syria-type conclusion ... is going to be difficult," said one nuclear expert who declined to be named.