Thursday, June 17, 2004

VIENNA, Austria — The U.N. nuclear watchdog agency has information Iran may be engaging in a new nuclear cover-up near a military facility outside Tehran, diplomats said yesterday as the agency’s board prepared to rebuke Iran for hindering an international probe.

The agency was looking at intelligence that Iran was razing parts of a restricted area next to a military complex in a Tehran suburb, the diplomats said.

Satellite photos showed that several buildings had been destroyed and topsoil had been removed at Lavizan Shiyan, one diplomat said.

The diplomat said that to his knowledge the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had not visited that site, although agency officials told the Iranians they were concerned about the unexplained activities.

“It’s vanishing now, so they need to look at it,” said the diplomat, adding that the agency also was focusing on other sites. The diplomat did not elaborate.

The IAEA is investigating nearly two decades of covert nuclear activity by Iran. Tehran maintains its program is meant to generate electricity, but the United States contends that it is a weapons program.

The diplomats spoke as delegates to the IAEA’s board of governors agreed on the text of a toughly worded Iran resolution yesterday.

The text expresses “strong concern” and “deplores” foot-dragging by Iran in revealing its nuclear secrets but contains no “trigger mechanism” — a clause sought by Washington that could send the Iran case to the United Nations Security Council for violating the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

But a Western diplomat familiar with the U.S. position said the Americans were content because they “feel this … helps tee [Iran] up for Security Council action” at the next board meeting in September.

Another diplomat said Washington was waiting for the IAEA to discover new incriminating evidence, including signs that Iran was trying to hide past covert nuclear activity at Lavizan Shiyan and test results of enriched uranium samples taken from military sites.

The diplomat suggested the IAEA had access to American intelligence about the Lavizan Shiyan site.

Agreement on the text of the censure came despite Iranian efforts to substantially tone it down, including tactics that forced IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei yesterday to concede a mistake in a report criticizing Tehran for repeated lack of cooperation with the agency probe.

Mr. ElBaradei said his report to the board incorrectly stated that Iran did not report the purchase of 150 magnets for P-2 centrifuges. Iran submitted an audiotape recording an IAEA inspector being informed about the purchase. IAEA officials said the mistake was made because Iran did not report the purchase in writing.

Iran maintains it never had a fully functioning uranium-enrichment program but was interested in the process to generate electricity. Enrichment can be used to produce power or bombs.

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