West skeptical of Iranian nuclear cooperation

High-level IAEA team expected in Iran in late January; Iran says willing to discuss UN nuclear suspicions; West suspect stalling tactic.

By REUTERS
January 13, 2012 22:25
2 minute read.
IAEA cameras in Iran uranium plant [file]

IAEA cameras in Iranian uranium enrichment facility 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)

VIENNA - Iran will need to show genuine readiness to address mounting suspicions about its nuclear program at rare talks with senior UN officials this month to convince a skeptical West that it is not just stalling.

With Iran facing intensifying sanctions pressure, a high-level team from the UN atomic watchdog is expected to visit this month, seeking explanations on long-standing concerns that Iran may be trying to develop nuclear weapons capability.

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Iran's envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has said the Islamic Republic is ready to answer the agency's questions in order to remove "any ambiguities" about its nuclear work and clear up the issue once and for all.

But Iranian officials have used such language before, and diplomats say this will not be enough to satisfy the IAEA.

"I would tend to be rather pessimistic," one Western envoy said. "This road is paved with danger and past experience cannot render anyone optimistic."

Another diplomat added: "I doubt very seriously that (the high-level UN nuclear mission) will lead to anything."

Iran rejects as forged accusations that it has coordinated efforts to process uranium, test high explosives and revamp a ballistic missile cone to accommodate a nuclear warhead.

But while UN inspectors regularly monitor Iran's declared nuclear facilities, their movements are otherwise restricted, and the IAEA has complained for years of a lack of access to sites, equipment, documents and people relevant to its probe.

"They (the Iranians) should understand that they don't get rid of these questions by not addressing them. This is something the IAEA will definitely tell them," a Western official said.

But this week's assassination of a nuclear scientist in Iran, which Tehran blamed on Israel, gives Iranian officials an "excuse to stonewall access to its scientific community and subvert the agency's efforts," two nuclear experts said.

"If the IAEA loses some of its access, the world will have markedly less information about Iran's nuclear program, which will make the goal of taming Iran's atomic ambitions more difficult," Ali Vaez and Charles Ferguson of the Washington-based Federation of American Scientists wrote in a comment.

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