Sunday, June 11, 2006

Iran Says Suspicious Uranium Traces Originated Abroad

Iran said traces of highly enriched uranium found by United Nations inspectors in Tehran, which have increased speculation Iran is trying to build an atomic bomb, came from abroad and aren't evidence of domestic production.

Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency found the traces at a university in January. The nuclear watchdog's board meets tomorrow in Vienna and will release a report saying ``no further progress'' was made in uncovering the origin of the traces, according to a copy seen by Bloomberg News.

``This is not a very important thing,'' Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told reporters in Tehran today, in a press conference carried live on state television. ``It has been clarified once and for all that the source of contamination was not domestic but came from abroad.'' READ MORE

Iran is continuing with its nuclear program, which it says is aimed at electricity production, in defiance of international pressure and a non-binding UN resolution. The nation has yet to react to European Union proposals, delivered June 6 and backed by the U.S., which seek to end the standoff.

The uranium found in Tehran wasn't enriched to weapons grade, a senior UN official with knowledge of the IAEA's Iran investigation said June 8. The official requested anonymity because the UN report hadn't been formally presented to the IAEA board. IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei will present the report to the board tomorrow.

Enriched Uranium

Highly enriched uranium means the metal has been enriched above the 5 percent concentration needed for civilian use. A concentration of more than 90 percent is needed for nuclear weapons. Iran has the world's No. 2 oil and natural-gas reserves.

The equipment on which traces were found may have been taken to the university from a physics laboratory at the Lavizan military site, Agence France-Presse reported June 8. The Iranian authorities destroyed the Lavizan site in 2004 after the IAEA asked to investigate it, AFP said.

Iran began making a new batch of nuclear fuel on the same day that the EU presented its proposals, according to the three- page IAEA report. The timing was a coincidence, Asefi said today.

The EU's proposals were agreed June 1 by diplomats from the five permanent members of the UN Security Council -- the U.S., China, Russia, the U.K. and France -- as well as by Germany.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki yesterday said Iran may respond with a counter-offer.

``The Europeans made remarks and now they should be ready to listen to our words,'' Iran's parliamentary speaker, Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel, told lawmakers today, according to a report from the state-run Iranian News Agency.

Haddad-Adel also said any ``preconditions'' for talks set by the EU would be ``meaningless.''