'Iran, Syria continuing nuke projects'

Following IAEA report, Israel calls for further investigation; US summons Syrian ambassador.

Ahmadinejad Natanz 248.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Ahmadinejad Natanz 248.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
"Iran and Syria are secretly working on nuclear technology in a manner which risks peace in the region and the world, while bluntly ignoring their international obligations," a statement by the Foreign Ministry said Friday evening. Meanwhile, US State Department officials have said they plan to meet with the Syrian ambassador to the US, Imad Moustapha, to discuss the allegations. The Israeli and American statements were issued following a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which indicated Iran was continuing to enrich uranium. The Israeli statement said that "The report on Iran indicates a continuation of the uranium enrichment project which goes against the [UN] Security Council's resolutions, and proves Iran's lack of cooperation with the IAEA's effort to clear up heavy suspicions over the military goals of Iran's plan," the statement continued. Israel also expressed concern over the Syrian military facility bombed in September 2007 and was expecting the IAEA "to continue investigating, including visiting other sites to which Syria is currently blocking access." The US-Syrian meeting, scheduled for next week, will be the first such session since last September and reflects Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's interest in talking directly with Syria and other countries at odds with the United States, spokesman Gordon Duguid said. "It's her belief that direct engagement with Syria will advance US interests," Duguid said. Ambassador Moustapha is to meet with Jeffrey D. Feltman, the acting assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, at Feltman's request, Duguid said. Clinton is not scheduled to participate. "Our concerns include Syria's support to terrorist groups and networks, Syria's pursuit of nuclear and nonconventional weaponry, interference in Lebanon and a worsening human rights situation," Duguid said. Earlier Friday, experts said a recent report by the UN nuclear watchdog which stated that Iran has slowed down its uranium enrichment program neglected to underscore the fact that Teheran already had enough fissile material to produce an atomic bomb. The recent International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report states that inspectors uncovered 209 kilograms of low-enriched uranium that the Iranians had failed to declare, which brings the total amount that Teheran has so far enriched to over a ton, enough, with additional purification, to produce a nuclear weapon, officials told the New York Times Thursday. Independent weapons experts told the paper that they were surprised by the figures and criticized the IAEA for conducting inspections of Iran's nuclear facilities only once a year. "It's worse than we thought. It's alarming that the actual production was underreported by a third," said Gary Milhollin, the director of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control. "You have enough atoms" to make a bomb, a senior UN official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. The IAEA report, which was made public Thursday, stated that the new assessment of the total amount of uranium enriched by Iran factors in 171 kilograms of newly-produced material and 839 kilograms of old production. In the past, however, the agency had only reported 630 kilograms of old production. The discrepancy between the two figures, 209 kilograms, brought the total amount of uranium enriched by Iran to over a metric ton. UN officials were quoted by the Times as saying that the inconsistency could be accounted for by the fact that the Natanz enrichment facility was new, which could make it harder for Iran to make an accurate assessment. The officials rejected the possibility that the gap in the numbers meant Iran could smuggle enriched uranium out of the plant for further processing at a secret location. "We're sure that no material could have left the facility without us knowing," the senior United Nations official said, admitting, however, that inspectors only made the inventory rounds once a year. "It's only at that moment that we have our own independent data." The report also updated the figures for the number of centrifuges in place in Natanz, bringing the total figure to 5,600, up from a count of 3,800 working centrifuges in the IAEA's November 2008 report.