- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 2, 2004

VIENNA, Austria — The United States accused Iran yesterday of using deceit and denial to hide its clandestine development of nuclear weapons, after damning revelations from the U.N. nuclear watchdog on the Islamic republic’s atomic energy program.

Kenneth Brill, the U.S. ambassador to the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), told reporters that Iran’s refusal to fully cooperate with the agency “fits a long-term pattern of denial and deception that can only be designed to mask Iran’s military nuclear program.”

An IAEA report released on Tuesday said agency inspectors had found more traces in Iran of highly enriched uranium that could be weapons-grade.

The IAEA also reported that Iran, which insists its nuclear program is for peaceful, civilian purposes, has admitted to importing parts for sophisticated P-2 centrifuges for enriching uranium, going back on claims that it had made the parts domestically.

“Almost two years after the IAEA became aware of Iran’s covert nuclear program, and fully one year after the discovery of Iran’s attempts to conceal their work at the Kalaye Electric Company [in Tehran], delayed access, inconsistent stories and unanswered questions continue to be the hallmark of Iranian cooperation with the agency,” Mr. Brill said.

“Even a disinterested observer must now ask, what is it that the Iranians are so intent on hiding?” Mr. Brill asked.

The IAEA report is to be submitted to the agency’s 35-nation board of governors on June 14.

The United States has called for the IAEA, which has been investigating the Iranian program since February 2003, to refer the Islamic republic to the U.N. Security Council for possible international sanctions.

In Tehran, top nuclear negotiator Hassan Rowhani said yesterday that Iran had “no secret nuclear activities.”

Mr. Rowhani said: “Iran’s nuclear dossier is on the way to being sorted out and there is nothing very important that is pending.”

But Mr. Brill said: “Iran is still stalling, providing last-minute declarations and contradicting earlier definitive statements. The IAEA continues to find new, incriminating evidence of undeclared activity. …

“The question is how long the [IAEA] board of governors and the international community will tolerate this,” he said.

Diplomats and experts said they expected nothing to happen in the short term because Washington does not have a “smoking gun” to prove Iran is making nuclear weapons.

“The United States is stymied unless the IAEA can come up with some devastating revelation that Iran is lying or hiding something,” said Gary Samore, a London-based nonproliferation expert.

He said the Iranians may even be emboldened with their success in putting off the IAEA to resume the enrichment of uranium, something they voluntarily suspended in order to build confidence with the international community.

A Western diplomat close to the IAEA said such a move by Iran “would spark a crisis with [Britain, France and Germany] and others and I don’t think that’s a price Tehran wants to pay.”

Highly enriched uranium can be used for fuel in reactors but also the explosive in atomic bombs.

Another diplomat said nothing less than the international non-proliferation regime was at stake in Iran.

The diplomat said getting to the bottom of the Iranian program was “difficult but crucial for nonproliferation and for the IAEA.”

“If progress is slow, there will come a time when the Europeans will have to reflect on their policy,” the diplomat said.

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