Report due on IAEA probe into Iran's nuclear activities

A report with details of Iran’s uranium enrichment efforts and information on a secret project that US intelligence has linked to a possible nuclear weapons programme will be issued today to the 35 nations on the board of the UN’s nuclear watchdog.

The confidential report, drawn up for next week’s board meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), will play a significant role in determining how the international community proceeds with its efforts to wrest compromises from Tehran over suspicions it may be seeking to make nuclear weapons.

The board has already reported Iran to the UN Security Council, but the council is waiting for the report and the outcome of the board meeting before taking any concrete action. Russia and China, which have vetoes on the Security Council and strong economic and political ties to Tehran, insisted on the delay.

Public mention of Iran’s “Green Salt Project” – uranium processing efforts that US intelligence has linked to high explosives and warhead design – first surfaced in an IAEA report drawn up for the last IAEA board meeting.

That IAEA report voiced concern that under the Green Salt Project, conversion of uranium – a precursor to enrichment – was linked to suspected tests of “high explosives and the design of a missile re-entry vehicle, all of which could have a military nuclear dimension.”

Among the links, they said, was the participation of several Iranian officials in uranium conversion, high explosives and warhead design work.

High explosives can be used to detonate an atomic weapon.

Diplomats familiar with the IAEA report said the agency based its concerns about the Green Salt project on several pages of US intelligence that Washington recently declassified so that Iran could be confronted with it.

Iran already has converted tonnes of uranium using a method that agency officials believe differs from the method that is thought it be used in the Green Salt Project.

Iran’s insistence on enriching uranium was a catalyst of the board’s February 2 decision to report Tehran to the Security Council. Enrichment can make nuclear fuel, which Iran insists it has a right to under the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. But it can also produce the fissile core of nuclear warheads.

Iran announced on January 10 that it was ending a two-year freeze on enrichment. It began introducing uranium gas into centrifuges a few weeks later. Most recently, diplomats said Iran had set up a small “cascade” – centrifuges in series – and had produced small amounts of enriched uranium.

Although hundreds, if not thousands of centrifuges have to be linked to produce the highly enriched uranium needed for weapons use, the development is significant because it marks a further step in the process leading to large-scale enrichment.

A compromise backed by the international community would move Iran’s enrichment program to Russia, thereby reducing the possibilities it could be misused. But despite growing international pressure Iran insists it will not give up enrichment, at least on the experimental scale that would allow it to fully develop its programme.

While Russian and Iranian officials announced agreement in principle on the plan for enrichment on Russian soil over the weekend, Tehran appeared to remain firm in its insistence on running at least a small-scale program at home.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told his Japanese counterpart that Iran had the right to pursue nuclear research and would not stop, a Japanese Foreign Ministry official said. And Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday again appealed to Tehran to give up all plans for domestic enrichment, saying bilateral talks with the Iranians would continue until the IAEA board of governors’ meeting on Iran next week.

Iran insists its intentions are purely peaceful and an IAEA investigation has come up with no firm evidence to the contrary. But the agency has discovered suspicious Iranian activity, including plutonium experiments and long-secret efforts to develop uranium enrichment.

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