VIENNA — The U.N. nuclear agency has created a special Iran task force of nuclear weapons specialists, intelligence analysts and others focused on probing allegations that Tehran has been – or is – secretly working on developing atomic arms, according to an internal document shared with the Associated Press.
The announcement from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) says the elite squad started work Aug. 10.
Dated Wednesday, the IAEA statement says the unit will concentrate on implementing its agreements with Iran, allowing it to monitor its nuclear activities as mandated by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
It also says it will focus on "relevant" IAEA and U.N Security Council resolutions on Iran. Both have demanded that Tehran stop activities that could be used to make nuclear weapons and cooperate with the agency's investigation of suspicions Tehran worked on nuclear weapons.
But while drawing together its best people, the new task force will have no more power regarding inspections of Iran's known or suspected nuclear sites than previous IAEA inspectors did.
Attempts to visit a site at Iran's Parchin military complex southeast of Tehran have documented IAEA limitations.
For months, satellite images have recorded what the IAEA suspects is an attempt to sanitize the site of suspected work on explosive charges used to detonate a warhead. At the same time, Iran repeatedly has rebuffed agency efforts for access -- including last Friday.
The most recent satellite images now show what diplomats last week said appears to be pink material shrouding buildings apparently linked to the alleged experiments, effectively blinding agency attempts to monitor a site that they have been kept from visiting. The diplomats demanded anonymity because they were not authorized to comment on the IAEA's Iran investigation.
Iran says such allegations are based on evidence fabricated by the U.S. and Israel, and it insists its nuclear program is meant only for making reactor fuel, medical isotopes and peaceful research.
But it refuses to give up uranium enrichment, which can produce both reactor fuel and the core of nuclear warheads, despite offers of fuel from abroad.
Iran has stonewalled an IAEA probe into its alleged weapons work for more than four years, increasing concerns that it has something to hide.
Creating a unit focused on only one country is an unusual move for the IAEA, reflecting the urgency the U.N. nuclear watchdog is attaching to Iran amid fears that it is moving closer to the ability to make nuclear weapons, despite its denials.
With diplomatic efforts to engage Tehran on its nuclear activities stalemated -- and Israel warning that it will not tolerate an Iran with atomic weapons -- concerns are growing that time is running short to defuse tensions peacefully.