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Iran promises answers on atomic work: diplomats
Updated: 2006-02-26 16:17

U.N. nuclear experts arrived in Iran on Saturday after Tehran promised answers to outstanding questions about work the U.N. fears could be linked to atomic "weaponization," Western diplomats said.

Iran's Economy Minister Davoud Danesh-Jaffari (R) and the Head of Russia's Atomic Energy Agency Sergei Kiriyenko react during an official meeting in Tehran February 25, 2006. [REUTERS]

Separately, two diplomats said Tehran had begun operating 10 uranium enrichment centrifuges at its Natanz plant in central Iran, meaning the Islamic Republic has made good on its threats to resume the small-scale production of uranium fuel.

On Thursday, a senior diplomat in Vienna told Reuters the Iranians had promised the deputy director general of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Olli Heinonen, information about a shadowy uranium-processing project that Western intelligence has linked to possible atom bomb work.

In addition to this uranium project -- called the "Green Salt Project" -- an EU diplomat in Vienna briefed on the IAEA's probe of Iran's nuclear program said Tehran had also promised information related to possible work on nuclear "weaponization."

"This trip is related to the entire issue of weaponization, one of the major unresolved issues," said a European Union diplomat who follows Iran. "The Iranians have promised answers but it's unclear whether the answers will be sufficient to clear up all the IAEA's questions about Iranian weaponization work."

The term weaponization includes making, testing and fitting a nuclear warhead to a delivery system, such as a missile.

Two Vienna diplomats said they doubted the Iranians were ready to finally come clean after decades of covering up work that the United States, European Union and their allies believe has been part of a covert plan to develop atomic weapons.

Iran denies wanting nuclear weapons and says it is only interested in the peaceful generation of electricity.


One EU diplomat said the Iranians were afraid the IAEA report would include complaints that Tehran continues to stonewall U.N. inspectors in their attempt to verify whether or not Iran's nuclear program is peaceful.

"They are afraid (IAEA chief Mohamed) ElBaradei's report for the March 6 board meeting will not have very good things to say regarding their refusal to answer questions about weaponization," the diplomat said. "They want to soften it."

He predicted Iran would give the IAEA enough information to require lengthy examination. This could delay any action by the U.N. Security Council, which will receive a copy of ElBaradei's report once it is discussed by the IAEA board next week.

Corey Hinderstein of the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), a U.S. think-tank, said the IAEA's unanswered weaponization questions included Iran's high explosives tests, its design information related to the core of a nuclear weapon and the military's role in its nuclear work.

There were also questions related to U.S. intelligence recovered from a stolen laptop computer that suggests Iranian missile experts have been trying to develop a missile re-entry vehicle capable of carrying a relatively small nuclear warhead.

The EU diplomat said Iran's decision to press ahead with the enrichment of uranium, a process of purifying it for use as fuel in nuclear power plants or weapons, was especially disturbing given the open questions about possible weaponization.

He said Iran's decision to feed uranium gas into 10 centrifuges was not in itself "a big deal." A thousand centrifuges of the type Iran has at Natanz would need several years to produce enough highly-enriched fuel for a single bomb.

"Weaponization combined with enrichment is a big deal," he said.

The 10 centrifuges had been sealed by the IAEA until Iran decided to resume enrichment earlier this year, prompting France, Britain and Germany to end 2-1/2 years of talks aimed at resolving the stand-off with Iran.

But while Western nations threatened to press ahead with sanctions, Iran is to grant gas contracts to European firms Total, Shell and Repsol, an Iranian state oil firm said.

Iran is the convinced the West will balk at setting sanctions on OPEC's number two exporter while oil prices remain high.

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