- Associated Press - Monday, June 7, 2010

VIENNA | The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) singled out Iran on Monday as a “special case” for his monitoring teams because of suspicions it might be hiding experimental nuclear-weapons programs. A senior Iranian envoy said Israel is the true threat to Mideast peace.

IAEA chief Yukiya Amano’s opening comments at the start of the agency’s 35-nation board meeting reflected international concern about Iran’s nuclear agenda days before the U.N. Security Council is expected to punish Tehran for its refusal to heed demands to curb its activities.

Iran is stonewalling IAEA attempts to follow up on intelligence from the United States and other nations that suggests Tehran has hidden nuclear-weapons experiments from the world. The planned fourth set of U.N. sanctions reflects concerns about such programs, plus Tehran’s refusal to freeze uranium enrichment, which Iran says it wants to develop as a fuel source but which also can be used to make nuclear warheads.

“Iran is a special case because, among other things, of the existence of issues related to the possible military dimensions to its nuclear program,” Mr. Amano told the closed meeting in comments made available to reporters. “Iran has not provided the necessary cooperation to permit the agency to confirm that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities.”

Iran and Syria, which also is suspected of hiding weapons-related nuclear activities, have for years taken up prime time at IAEA board meetings. But that attention may be blunted this time by another agenda item — this one critical of Israel, which is universally assumed to have nuclear arms but has never confirmed that status.

The item, listed as “Israeli nuclear capabilities,” marks the first time in 19 years that the board has been asked to formally discuss the issue.

Elevating Israel to the same status as Iran and Syria on the board’s agenda in some ways detracts from Western attempts to keep the heat on Tehran and Damascus and could split the board even further — developing nations at board meetings are generally supportive of Iran and Syria and hostile to Israel.

The latest pressure is putting the Jewish state in an uncomfortable position. It wants the international community to take stern action to prevent Iran from getting atomic weapons but at the same time brushes off calls to come clean about its own nuclear capabilities.

It also gives critics of Israel a platform to slam it for its attack last week on ships trying break the Gaza blockade that left nine ship crew members dead.

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