US, UK, France ask tough questions about Iran's nuke activities

If Iran can't provide answers, stage could be set for push for new sanctions.

Iran nuclear new 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
Iran nuclear new 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
The United States, Britain and France are asking dozens of tough questions about Iran's uranium enrichment program that an International Atomic Energy Agency report due Thursday probably will not be able to answer, setting the stage for a push for new UN sanctions on Teheran. The queries are contained in separate confidential documents from the three nations and were made available to The Associated Press on the eve of a report being drawn up by IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei. Diplomats said they were also being circulated to other members of the IAEA's 35-nation board and had been made available to ElBaradei's office. In 10 pages, they outline what Washington, London and Paris think Iran must tell the IAEA in order to build confidence that the program - which can be used to make nuclear weapons - is in fact only being expanded to generate power, as Teheran asserts. France, for instance, wants the full "chronology of contacts" between Iran and the nuclear black market network that provided it with the initial centrifuges and other startup equipment needed for an enrichment program. It also asks for IAEA "conclusions ... explaining production by Iran of centrifuge components on military facilities" - a possible link to a weapons program. It also asks the IAEA to share all "questions put to Iran and answers given" - a condition that the IAEA is likely to refuse because of confidentiality reasons. Outlining past differences between the agency and Iran on the scope, history and present development of Teheran's enrichment efforts, Britain repeatedly asks "what has Iran told the Agency that has given the Agency confidence that Iran's declaration in this regard is now correct and complete?" And the US calls for "access to all individuals ... facilities, equipment (and) materials" that can shed light on the suggestions that early enrichment activities were more developed that Teheran admits to and were linked to the military. As well, it requests an assurance of "full Iranian cooperation with all IAEA requests for information and documentation" - something diplomats have said has been denied the agency during its present probe. Touching on Washington's expectations for the report on Wednesday, chief US IAEA delegate Gregory L. Schulte told reporters: "selective cooperation is not good enough." ElBaradei has described Iranian compliance with his agency's probe of Teheran's past nuclear cover-ups as the "litmus test" of the country's willingness to end its stonewalling about nearly two decades of activities that were only revealed in 2003 - and have led to sets of UN Security Council sanctions. Under a "work-plan" agreed on earlier this year, Iran agreed to fully answer all IAEA questions on past experiments, suspicious blueprints and diagrams and the full extent of its enrichment program, including its history and present scope. According to the timetable of the work plan, the ElBaradei report due Thursday will focus on enrichment, which Iran has expanded instead of suspending as called for by the Security Council. It will likely be hotly debated by the IAEA's board at a meeting starting November 22, with the US France and Britain likely saying it falls short of full compliance. But China and Russia, the other permanent council members, may emphasize progress made and demand more time for Iran before fresh UN penalties are imposed. Before the report, diplomats linked to the IAEA have spoken of progress and on Tuesday, Teheran met a key demand of the UN nuclear agency by delivering drawings that show how to mold uranium into the shape of warheads. But other diplomats told the AP that Teheran has failed to meet all IAEA requests. Senior IAEA officials were refused interviews with at least two top Iranian nuclear officials who helped develop Iran's enrichment activities, but are suspected of possible involvement in a weapons program, they said. One was the director of a physics laboratory at Lavizan, outside Teheran, which was razed before the agency had a chance to investigate activities there. The other was in charge of developing Iran's centrifuges, used to enrich uranium. Additionally, agency experts were denied access to a workshop testing and developing a more advanced kind of centrifuge than Iran is now using for its enrichment program, they said. The agency traditionally refuses to comment on the report - which is confidential and meant only for circulation among board member nations - particularly before it is released to those countries. A senior diplomat familiar with agency thinking said the IAEA "got what it needed" in terms of access to officials and nuclear sites, although he declined to specifically say whether all requests were honored by Iran. But another diplomat said a draft of the report had described the centrifuge issue would be "closed but not resolved," indicating the IAEA was preparing to move on to other topics but with an option of revisiting uranium enrichment.