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El Baradei rejects criticism of UN Iran inspections
( 2003-12-05 09:11) (Agencies)

The head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog on Thursday rejected criticism of its failure to detect Iran's clandestine experiments to make enriched uranium and plutonium, saying they were practically undetectable.

Mohamed El Baradei, director-general of the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), also said Iran had yet to sign a protocol accepting more intrusive snap inspections, though diplomats said it was too early to say whether Tehran was stalling.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Secretary-General Mohamed ElBaradei talks to journalists in Vienna, December 4, 2003.  [Reuters]
Iran acknowledged to the IAEA in October that it hid a secret centrifuge uranium enrichment program from U.N. inspectors for nearly two decades.

El Baradei said Iran's laboratory-scale experiments, which Washington said were further proof that Tehran has been secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons, were on too small a scale to be easily detected by his inspectors.

"People have been saying Iran has been cheating the agency, if you like, for 18 years," El Baradei told reporters. "Yes, Iran has been successful in doing research and laboratory activities and this we were not able to detect, and I don't think we will be able to detect in the future.

"But...if a country moves from research...to an industrial scale to develop weapons, I think the system, with all the technology that we have, makes it highly unlikely that this kind of program would go on undetected."

The United States accuses Iran of using its nuclear power program as a front to build an atom bomb. Tehran denies this.

While the IAEA concluded in a recent report that it had seen "no evidence" Iran did have a covert weapons program, it said the jury was still out as to whether one existed.

El Baradei said that no matter how thorough and intrusive inspections are, there are clear limits to what they can detect.

"There will always be easily concealable items -- one centrifuge or two centrifuges operating somewhere or a computer study," he said.


In a separate interview with the French newspaper Le Figaro, El Baradei said Washington was setting a bad example for would-be nuclear proliferators by research into so-called "mini nukes."

The United States, like Iran, is a signatory of the 1968 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). By signing the treaty as a nuclear power, Washington has pledged to gradually disarm.

"If you see Congress unblocking millions of dollars for research into mini nuclear bombs, one understands that far from aiming for nuclear disarmament, the United States seeks to improve its arsenal," he said in the interview to appear in the paper's Friday edition.

El Baradei also said Iran had not yet told him when it would sign an NPT protocol permitting more intrusive, short-notice IAEA inspections but he expected it to sign soon, as promised.

Several non-U.S. diplomats told Reuters they did not consider the fact that Iran had not signed the NPT protocol as proof Tehran was stalling.

El Baradei said the agency was in the process of contacting companies and individuals who had been involved with Iran's purchase of centrifuge components, which it said were contaminated with weapons-grade uranium.

Although he did not name names, diplomats and arms experts have said Pakistan was the likely origin of Iran's European-developed centrifuge designs and much of its hardware.

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