- The Washington Times - Monday, May 31, 2010

Iran is continuing to hide details about its current and past nuclear-weapons activities, including efforts to develop a nuclear missile warhead, according to a new report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The agency, in a confidential report obtained by The Washington Times, concluded that Iran is continuing to produce highly enriched uranium at a plant at Natanz and continuing construction of a uranium plant at Qom.

This year alone, Iran has produced about 12.5 pounds of highly enriched uranium that analysts say could be used to make a nuclear weapon.

The IAEA report was disclosed as the Obama administration presses ahead with new sanctions against Iran in the U.N. Security Council.

The restricted IAEA report by the agency’s director general, Yukiya Amano, repeated concerns about what it called the “possible military dimensions” of the Iranian nuclear program and what Iran needed to do to resolve unanswered questions about it.

“Based on an overall analysis undertaken by the agency of all the information available to it, the agency remains concerned about the possible existence in Iran of past or current undisclosed nuclear-related activities, involving military-related organizations, including activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile,” said the report, dated May 31.

“There are indications that certain of these activities may have continued beyond 2004,” the report said, contradicting the 2007 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate by U.S. intelligence agencies that stated Iran halted work on nuclear weapons in 2003.

According to the report, Iran’s government continues to refuse to answer questions about its nuclear arms program since August 2008, claiming accusations about the military program are groundless and based on forged documents provided to the IAEA.

The report concluded that Iran’s refusal to provide information on its past nuclear activities has prevented the agency from eliminating concerns about the weapons program.

“More specifically, Iran is not implementing the requirements contained in the relevant resolutions of the Board of Governors and the Security Council, including implementation of the Additional Protocol, which are essential to building confidence in the exclusively peaceful purpose of Iran’s nuclear program and to resolving outstanding questions,” the report said.

Specifically, “Iran needs to cooperate in clarifying outstanding issues, which give rise to concerns about possible military dimensions to its nuclear program,” it said.

The IAEA expressed concerns about Iran’s refusal to explain the military-related nuclear work.

“With the passage of time and the possible deterioration in the availability of information, it is essential that Iran engage with the agency on these issues, and that the agency be permitted to visit all relevant sites, have access to all relevant equipment and documentation, and be allowed to interview all relevant persons, without further delay,” the report said.

Uranium comes in two forms — uranium-238 and uranium-235. Almost all uranium found in nature is the former type, but only the latter is useful for making weapons. The enrichment process increases the percentage of uranium-235 in the mix. Uranium enriched to an 85 percent or higher share of uranium-235 is considered weapons grade, though weaker mixes are usable. The first U.S. nuclear weapon used 64 kilograms of uranium enriched to 80 percent.

The report noted that between February and May, Iran used centrifuges to enrich about 380 pounds of low-enriched uranium hexafluoride. On April 7, Iran withdrew 12.5 pounds of uranium enriched to almost 20 percent, the level at which uranium is considered highly enriched and can be used for a crude nuclear device, though not a reliable modern warhead.

The report also disclosed that the once-secret Iranian nuclear facility near Qom is continuing to be developed. The facility was first disclosed to the IAEA in September, but had been known to U.S. intelligence agencies since 2007.

The report said construction of the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant (FFEP) near Qom will contain 16 centrifuge cascades, or groups, with a total of about 3,000 centrifuges.

A CIA report to Congress made public several months ago stated that “Iran is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons, though we do not know whether Tehran will eventually decide to produce nuclear weapons.” The CIA report said Iran in 2009 increased its number of centrifuges from 5,000 to about 8,700.

Iran refused to agree to an IAEA-brokered deal that called for Iran to export about 2,640 pounds of low-enriched uranium to Russia and France, where it could be enriched further for fuel for a Tehran research reactor. That deal would have left Iran almost 2,200 pounds of material that it could later enrich to weapons-grade.

Iran turned down the IAEA plan, but then reached an agreement with Turkey and Brazil on exporting uranium, which U.S. officials said was an attempt to forestall new U.N. sanctions. The Iranian government has said it has no intention of building nuclear weapons, but its continued refusal to cooperate with the IAEA has raised worries.

The report stated that Iran has enriched a total of about 5,340 pounds of uranium to the 3 percent level, which is considered low-enriched uranium.

In a related development, the Associated Press reported that a separate IAEA report stated that Syria continues to block the agency from investigating a nuclear facility destroyed nearly three years ago by Israeli warplanes.

“Syria has not cooperated with the agency since June 2008” regarding most elements of the IAEA investigation, according to the Syria report. It stated that Syria admitted it has conducted small-scale nuclear experiments that the government in Damascus previously denied.

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