- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 19, 2008

VIENNA, Austria (AP) — Iran’s vice president answered questions about his country’s suspect nuclear past yesterday in talks with International Atomic Energy Agency officials looking for signs of a secret weapons program, senior diplomats said.

They declined to discuss details of the meeting, however, saying that could jeopardize an upcoming IAEA report on the investigation of Tehran’s past nuclear work.

The diplomats, who agreed to disclose the private meeting only if they were not identified, told the Associated Press that Vice President Gholamreza Aghazadeh met with the agency’s deputy director, Oil Heinonen, and possibly its chief, Mohamed ElBaradei.

Mr. Aghazadeh is in charge of all of Iran’s nuclear programs and the high-level visit was a sign of the importance his country attaches to Mr. ElBaradei’s report this week. Iran denies ever trying to make nuclear arms, and Iranian officials have said the probe will vindicate their stance.

The U.S. and much of Europe disagree. U.S. officials have repeatedly said in recent weeks that anything short of an Iranian admission that the country used its nuclear project as a cover for trying to make weapons would be unacceptable.

The investigation has recently focused on suspected Iranian experiments linked to nuclear arms.

Last week, diplomats said Washington had shared new intelligence on such suspected Iranian nuclear weapons work. One of them said the U.S. also gave the IAEA permission to confront Iran with at least some of the evidence in an attempt to pry details out of Iranian officials.

A meeting of the 35-nation IAEA board March 3 will evaluate Mr. ElBaradei’s investigation into Tehran’s nuclear past.

Tehran insists its program is intended only to produce energy and has refused U.N. demands that it suspend its uranium-enrichment program — technology that can produce both fuel for nuclear reactors that generate electricity and the fissile material needed for atomic bombs.

The U.S. is leading the push for a third set of U.N. sanctions against Iran for ignoring Security Council demands that it suspend uranium enrichment. But a U.S. intelligence assessment that Iran had a clandestine weapons program but stopped working on it four years ago has hurt Washington’s campaign for additional sanctions.

Suspicions over Iran’s nuclear ambitions intensified five years ago when it was revealed Tehran had begun working on enrichment processes during nearly two decades of covert nuclear activity built on illicit purchases on the black market.

IAEA experts have since uncovered activities, experiments and blueprints and materials that point to possible efforts by Iran to produce atomic arms, even though Tehran insists its nuclear project is peaceful.

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