'Can't confirm Iran nuke work peaceful'

Teheran pleased by IAEA chief new tone after hard-hitting report last week.

Yukiya Amano IAEA 311 (photo credit: AP)
Yukiya Amano IAEA 311
(photo credit: AP)
The chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency said Monday hecannot confirm that all of Iran's nuclear activities are peaceful,choosing his words carefully after tensions were sparked by his recentsuggestion that Teheran may be working on a secret arms program.
Internationalofficials separately revealed a new source of friction between Iran andthe international agency, telling The Associated Press that Iran wasresisting agency efforts to improve monitoring of the IslamicRepublic's recently launched higher enrichment program.
Iranstarted enriching uranium to near 20 percent about three weeks ago,from the previous 3.5 percent level. Iran says it is doing so to createfuel for a research reactor, but the move increased internationalconcern because it moves the country closer to creating weapons-gradematerial that can be used to arm missiles.
The officials saidthat since then, Iran has resisted agency requests to be able to mountadditional cameras to monitor the new program.
The officials,who asked for anonymity because their information was confidential,specified that cameras previously in place were now trained on Iran'snew enrichment effort but said the agency believed it needed additionalequipment to be able to fully watch the process.Asked whether hisagency was able to monitor the new enrichment program as closely theprevious one, enriching to 3.5 percent, IAEA chief Yukiya Amano saidmaking the needed adjustments "takes a certain amount of time."
Membersof the 35-nation International Atomic Energy Agency board were closelyfollowing Amano's statement opening the March board session to see ifhe would follow up on his hard-hitting Iran report issued last week.
Inthat document, Amano — who took the post in December — expressedconcern that Iran may be working on making a nuclear warhead,suggesting for the first time that Iran had either resumed such work ornever stopped when US intelligence thought it did.
Iran deniesany interest in developing nuclear arms, contradicting a 2007 USintelligence assessment concluding that Iran had worked on such weaponsbefore apparently suspending such activities in 2003. Amano's report,in contrast, suggested Iran never froze its experiments, expressing"concerns about the possible existence in Iran of past or currentundisclosed activities related to the development of a nuclear payloadfor a missile."
The Japanese diplomat was more circumspectMonday, devoting only four paragraphs to Iran in eight pages ofcomments. His assessment that the agency "cannot confirm that allnuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities" was less forcefulthan the central finding of his report.
The careful wording wasreminiscent of language used by Amano's predecessor, Mohamed ElBaradei.The Egyptian diplomat was occasionally accused by the West of being toosoft on Iran.
Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's chief delegate to the meeting, was pleased by Amano's change in tone.
"Thisoral report of Mr. Amano was a little bit better than the written," hetold reporters, calling the written report "unjustified and notacceptable."
A diplomat from one of the board member countriessaid Amano was attempting to defuse passions generated by his reportand seeking to head off potential confrontation with Iran's allies onthe board — nonaligned nations Iran counts upon for support. He askedfor anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
Thesenations, which make up about a third of the board, often blame the USand other Western nations accusing Iran of harboring weapons ambitionsof making unsubstantiated accusations. And they are suspicious of whatthey see as attempts by developed nations to block them from acquiringpeaceful nuclear technological know-how and back Iran when it depictsitself as a victim of such endeavors.
Such sentiments werereflected in a confidential statement from developing nations preparedfor delivery later in the week at the board session and made availableto The Associated Press.
"States' choices and decisions,including those of the Islamic Republic of Iran, in the field ofpeaceful uses of nuclear technology ... must be respected," said thestatement.
Indirectly criticizing Amano's choice of words in hisreport, the statement noted "with concern the possible implications ofthe departure" from previous report language.
It took three rounds of elections last year for Amano to prevail overSouth Africa's Abdul Minty — a contender backed by most developingnations — reflecting the persistent North-South divide that frequentlybedevils attempts to reach consensus at board meetings.
Iran is under three sets of UN Security Council sanctions for refusingto freeze uranium enrichment — a potential pathway to nuclear weapons —and other activities generating concerns that it seeks to make fissilewarhead material. It insists, however, that it is enriching only tomake nuclear fuel for an envisaged reactor network.