Iran Is Described as Defiant on 2nd Nuclear Program
David E. Sanger and Nazila Fathi, The New York Times:
Iran has told the International Atomic Energy Agency that it will refuse to answer questions about a second, secret uranium-enrichment program, according to European and American diplomats. The existence of the program was disclosed by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad earlier this month. READ MORE
Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad spoke at a rare news briefing with Iranian and foreign reporters in Tehran that was broadcast live with simultaneous translation.
The diplomats said Iran had also refused to answer questions about other elements of its nuclear program that international inspectors had focused on because they could indicate a program to produce nuclear weapons. The diplomats insisted on not being identified because of the delicacy of continuing negotiations between Iran and the West.
Separately, Mr. Ahmadinejad said he saw no need for Iran to hold talks with the United States about Iraq now that a new government had been formed, declaring at a rare news conference that with the formation of a government "the occupiers should leave and allow Iraqi people to run their country."
Together, the actions seem to show Iran's determination to move ahead with a confrontation with the West when the United Nations Security Council meets, probably next week, to debate its next steps.
Iran's decision not to answer the I.A.E.A.'s questions was conveyed last week to Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, the director general of the nuclear monitoring agency. He is required to send a report on Iran to the Council by Friday.
As a result, the diplomats said, Dr. ElBaradei decided to cancel a trip to Iran by top officials of the agency that had been scheduled for late last week, a trip intended to resolve as many of the questions as possible before the report is submitted.
Diplomats involved in the tense dialogue with Iran said that, barring a last-minute change, Dr. ElBaradei's report would declare, in what one European official called "a series of understatements," that Iran had done nothing to resolve the questions that the Council late last month gave it 30 days to answer.
R. Nicholas Burns, the under secretary of state for political affairs, said Monday evening, "We are very confident that the report is going to be negative concerning Iran's refusal to meet the conditions set down by the United Nations Security Council and the I.A.E.A." He added that Iran was in "outright violation" of the Council request.
Some of the most important questions concerned an advanced technology, the P-2 centrifuge, for enriching uranium. International inspectors believe that Iran obtained designs for the P-2 from the Pakistani nuclear engineer Abdul Qadeer Khan in the 1990's.
Iran long denied that it was doing anything with the technology, until Mr. Ahmadinejad declared 10 days ago that the country was "presently conducting research" on the P-2, which he said could increase fourfold the amount of uranium the country is able to enrich.
Mr. Ahmadinejad's statement took the inspectors and American officials by surprise. But they seized on his boasts about Iran's programs to press the question of whether the country has a separate set of nuclear facilities, apart from the giant enrichment center at Natanz, that it has not previously revealed. Dr. ElBaradei was told when he visited Tehran, the Iranian capital, two weeks ago that the country would try to answer questions about the P-2 program, its dealings with Mr. Khan in the 1980's and 90's and a series of other issues.
Dr. ElBaradei's inspectors were pressing other issues as well, many related to suspicions that Iran has been researching or developing ways to produce warheads or delivery systems for weapons — which Iran has denied. So far, Iran has answered few questions about a document in Tehran, apparently obtained from the Khan network, that shows how to form uranium metal into two spheres. Metal in that form can be used to create a basic nuclear device.
I.A.E.A. reports show there are also questions about plutonium enrichment, and a secret entity known as the Green Salt Project, which seemed to suggest that there were what the agency has called "administrative interconnections" between Iran's uranium processing, high explosives and missile design programs.
If Iran continues to refuse to answer the questions, it could bolster the American argument that the Security Council should take action under Article 7 of the United Nations Charter, which could pave the way for sanctions. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, speaking in Shannon, Ireland, said Monday that the credibility of the Council would be in doubt if it does not take clear-cut actions against Iran.
But China and Russia have both expressed deep reservations about any measures meant to coerce Iran, and Mr. Ahmadinejad vaguely suggested Monday, as he has before, that he would consider pulling his country out of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty if membership was no longer in Iran's interests. North Korea did that in 1993, expelling all inspectors, and they have not been allowed to return.
"Our current policy is to work within the framework of the NPT and I.A.E.A., but if we feel that there is no benefit in it for us, we will review our policy," he said. "We must see what the benefits of cooperating with the I.A.E.A. are after 30 years."
Mr. Ahmadinejad rejected the United Nations deadline of Friday for Iran to suspend its nuclear program. He brushed off threats of economic sanctions, saying that sanctions would hurt Western nations more than Iran.
He also rejected a proposal by Moscow to enrich uranium on Russian soil. The proposal was aimed at easing international concern over Iran's nuclear program. While some Iranian officials rejected the proposal in the past, others suggested that Iran might accept it under certain conditions.
There were signs of dissent within his government, however. The former chief nuclear negotiator, Hassan Rowhani, urged the government in a speech on Thursday to return to talks with Europe over the nuclear program, the daily newspaper Shargh reported.
David E. Sanger reported from Washington for this article, and Nazila Fathi from Tehran.