Thursday, February 17, 2005

IAEA Digs Into Past Of Iranian Program

Dafna Linzer, The Washington Post:
Despite a lack of fresh leads, U.N. inspectors continue to probe how Iran's nuclear program obtained equipment, material and know-how from abroad, questions that raise suspicions in Washington and Europe, diplomats with detailed knowledge of the investigation said Wednesday.

None of these lines of inquiry addresses whether Iran is currently working on nuclear weapons. Rather, diplomats say, the International Atomic Energy Agency hopes to obtain greater insight into the international black market that supplied Iran and get a more definitive account of the country's past programs.

Under arrangements still being worked out, Pakistan has agreed to lend the IAEA equipment from its nuclear weapons program that could help clear up one of the largest mysteries surrounding the two-year investigation of Iran -- why certain equipment in Iran has been found to contain traces of enriched uranium.

Western governments have suggested that the uranium's presence could indicate that Iran was manufacturing a key ingredient for nuclear weapons. But Iranian officials are hoping that test results will show that equipment it bought from Pakistan years ago arrived contaminated with the uranium from that country's nuclear program. ...

The IAEA's director, Mohamed ElBaradei, said in an interview Tuesday that six months have passed since the IAEA obtained any new information on Iran and that the agency hasn't found evidence to substantiate claims that Tehran is working on a weapons program, as the Bush administration has alleged.

For the first time in two years, ElBaradei will not present a written report to his board on Iran's programs and is instead preparing a brief statement on grounds of lack of new information.

One diplomat said ElBaradei's briefing will focus on Iran's suspension of nuclear-related work and its cooperation with inspectors, which ElBaradei has described as good, as well as the status of the agency's investigation. One of his deputies, Pierre Goldschmidt, will follow his presentation with a separate briefing on technical issues.

Goldschmidt will likely discuss two recent issues that inspectors have had with Iran, including a tunnel that the Iranians are building at a nuclear site in Isfahan to store nuclear materials in case of an attack. The construction was first noticed by inspectors on satellite photos, and the Iranians then provided diagrams of the site.

Inspectors do not consider the site to be relevant to the weapons investigations due to its defensive nature. ...