- The Washington Times - Friday, July 25, 2008

VIENNA, Austria (AP) | Iran signaled Thursday it will no longer cooperate with U.N. experts probing for signs of clandestine nuclear weapons work, thus confirming the investigation is at a dead end a year after it began.

The announcement from Iranian Vice President Gholam Reza Aghazadeh compounded skepticism about denting Tehran’s nuclear defiance, just five days after Tehran stonewalled demands from six world powers that it halt activities capable of producing the fissile core of warheads.

Besides demanding a suspension of uranium enrichment - a process that can create both fuel for nuclear reactors and payloads for atomic bombs - the six powers have been pressing Tehran to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency’s probe.

Iran, which is obligated as a signer of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty not to develop nuclear arms, raised suspicions about its intentions when it admitted in 2002 that it had run a secret atomic weapons program for nearly two decades in violation of its commitment.

The Tehran regime insists it halted such work and is now only trying to produce fuel for nuclear reactors to generate electricity. It agreed on a “work plan” with the Vienna-based IAEA a year ago for U.N. inspectors to look into allegations Iran is still conducting weapons work.

At the time, IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei hailed it as “a significant step forward” that would fill in the missing pieces of Tehran’s nuclear jigsaw puzzle - if honored by Iran. He brushed aside suggestions Iran was using the deal as a smoke screen to deflect attention from its continued defiance of a U.N. Security Council demand for a halt to uranium enrichment.

The investigation ran into trouble just months after being launched. Deadline after deadline was extended because of Iranian foot-dragging. The probe, originally meant to be completed late last year, spilled into the first months of 2008.

Iran remains defiant. It dismisses as fabricated the evidence supplied by the U.S. and other members of the IAEA’s governing board purportedly supporting allegations that Iranians continue to work on nuclear weapons.

On Thursday, Mr. Aghazadeh, who is also head of Iran’s atomic agency, appeared to signal that his country was no longer prepared even to discuss the issue with the IAEA.

Investigating such allegations “is outside the domain of the agency,” he said after meeting with Mr. ElBaradei. Any further queries on the issue “will be dealt with in another way,” he added without going into detail.

On Saturday, U.S. Undersecretary of State William Burns participated in talks with Iran held in Geneva, raising expectations that a compromise might be reached under which Iran would agree to temporarily stop expansion of enrichment activities. In exchange, the six world powers - the U.S., Germany, Britain, France, Russia and China - would hold off on adopting new U.N. sanctions against Iran. But participants said Iranian negotiators skirted the freeze issue.

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