US challenges Iran with tough questions

Teheran asked to answer why it possessed info on how to shape fissile uranium into warheads.

iaea 224 (photo credit: AP [file])
iaea 224
(photo credit: AP [file])
The United States on Wednesday challenged Iran to end its state of nuclear denial and explain why it had diagrams showing how to shape fissile uranium into the shape of warheads and other experiments linked to atomic arms research. European nations struck a similar tone, urging Teheran at a 35-nation board meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency to heed UN Security Council demands to curtail its nuclear program and cooperate with agency efforts to probe its alleged atomic arms experiments. The calls appeared to fall on deaf ears however, with Iranian officials insisting they would not suspend uranium enrichment - the key Security Council Demand - and dismissing US and other intelligence on their purported weapons program as fabricated. In its criticism of Iran, Gregory L. Schulte, the chief US delegate to the IAEA, listed intelligence from Washington and its allies that the agency is trying to verify, including:
  • A document showing how to cast uranium metal into the shape of warheads
  • Explosives experiments that could be used to test detonation devices for a nuclear weapon
  • Schematics of a missile re-entry vehicle that the IAEA judges "is quite likely to be able to accommodate a nuclear device"
  • Remote explosives testing that appears to include plans for underground detonations facilities, with a separate facility 10 kilometers distant to set off the detonation "I suspect that technicians don't need to shelter themselves 10 kilometers away to test conventional weapons," said Schulte, suggesting the setup was created with nuclear weapons testing in mind. "Iran's leaders say that they do not have a nuclear weapons program" he said. "To give the world confidence that this is true, we call on them to fully disclose past and present activities and suspend those that are not necessary for a civil program but are necessary to build a nuclear weapon." On the same issue, an EU statement to the board said the 27 EU countries shared IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei's "serious concern" about "the possible military dimension to Iran's nuclear program." It also noted "with growing concern" that Iran "continues to disregard ... the mandatory demands of the UN Security Council aimed at building confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of its nuclear program." And it expressed concern that Teheran might be hiding some atomic programs, saying that unless Iran restores more sweeping inspection powers for IAEA experts, the agency would not be "in a position to provide credible assurances on the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities." Britain, France and Germany - the three European nations at the forefront of attempts to engage Iran on its nuclear program - also urged Iran to bow to international demands, or face more penalties. "Iran's record ... remains abysmal" in trying to dispel suspicions about its nuclear activities, said a statement from the three nations read by Simon Smith, Britain's chief IAEA delegate. Alluding to the third set of UN Security Council sanctions passed Monday,and the possibility of more to come, Smith warned: "As long as Iran's choice remains one of non-cooperation, we for our part will remain determined to demonstrate the costs and consequences of that choice." The comments reflected Western frustration with Iran's nuclear defiance. Reacting to the newest Security Council sanctions, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said Tuesday it was politically motivated, "worthless and unacceptable." Iran insists it has a right to enrich uranium to create nuclear fuel, but the international community fears it could use the process to create the fissile core of nuclear warheads. At the same time, Ali Ashgar Soltanieh, Iran's chief envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency, declared that Teheran did not intend to answer questions on its alleged nuclear military activities. An IAEA report in February already noted that Iran had dismissed intelligence forwarded by the US and its allies purportedly showing Teheran trying to develop atomic weapons, calling it faked. Zalmay Khalilzad, the US ambassador to the United Nations, told reporters in New York on Tuesday that Teheran's response to the new sanctions meant the Security Council had taken appropriate action. "That shows that they don't like what has happened, which means that we've done the right thing, because they are in violation of two previous resolutions and we have to do something that indicates displeasure and causes more pressure on them," Khalilzad said.