- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 1, 2004

Iran intends to move one step closer to being able to produce a nuclear bomb by testing the conversion of a significant amount of yellowcake uranium this fall despite earlier informal pledges to suspend such tests.

Iran told the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency that it plans “hot tests” to produce uranium hexafluoride (UF6) gas from 37 tons of yellowcake as early as this month, according to a report distributed by the agency to diplomats yesterday.

Officials in Washington yesterday condemned the decision as a threat to international peace and called on the IAEA to bring Iran before the United Nations.

“Iran’s announcements are further strong evidence of the compelling need to take Iran’s nuclear program to the Security Council,” said John R. Bolton, undersecretary of state for arms control.

“The United States will continue to urge other members of the IAEA Board of Governors to join us in this effort, to deal with the Iranian threat to international peace and security.”

UF6 gas typically is passed through a series of centrifuges to produce enriched uranium that can be used in nuclear bombs or nuclear-power plants.

According to one Western expert, Iran’s test would involve enough gas to potentially produce five nuclear bombs.

Tehran’s decision meant it was “reneging on a political commitment made to the Europeans about six months ago to suspend these sorts of things,” said a Western diplomat in Vienna, Austria, where the IAEA has its headquarters.

Tehran repeatedly has stated that its nuclear program is a peaceful one.

David Albright, former U.N. weapons inspector and now president of the Institute for Science and International Security, said that although Tehran was still a long way from being able to produce a bomb, the amount of uranium being converted was “significant.”

“If they go ahead and do this, they are starting to produce enough UF6 for a bomb program,” Mr. Albright said. But he said that Iran was still three to five years away from being able to build and expand all the centrifuges and sites necessary to produce a nuclear weapon.

Under the parameters of the IAEA, Iran has the legal right to produce UF6, and it denies that it ever cut a deal with the Europeans to voluntarily suspend the production tests in exchange for improved trade and security assurances.

According to the IAEA report, Iran already conducted a smaller, similar test between May and June this year, generating roughly 66 to 77 pounds of UF6.

In its report, the agency states that recent actions by Tehran have compromised the IAEA’s ability to monitor Iran’s nuclear activities.

The report says Iran notified the agency on June 23 that it intended to resume, under IAEA supervision, the manufacturing of centrifuge components and assembly and testing of centrifuges. It removed the seals used by the agency to monitor Iran’s suspension.

Mr. Bolton said that the United States viewed “with great concern” Iran’s announcement that it intended to test its gas centrifuges.

Iran turned down a subsequent IAEA proposal to seal some 70 rotors tested in mid-August, so that “the Agency’s supervision of the activities identified by Iran cannot be considered effective,” the report cautioned.

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