Thursday, February 12, 2004

VIENNA, Austria — U.N. inspectors in Iran have discovered undeclared designs for an advanced centrifuge used to enrich uranium, diplomats said yesterday, another apparent link to the nuclear black market emanating from Pakistan.

Preliminary investigations suggest the design matches drawings of enrichment equipment found in Libya and supplied through the network headed by Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan, the diplomats said.

On Wednesday, President Bush acknowledged loopholes in the international enforcement system and urged the United Nations and member states to draw up laws that spell out criminal penalties for nuclear information trafficking.

Beyond adding a link to the chain of equipment, middlemen and companies making up the clandestine nuclear network, the find by U.N. nuclear inspectors reported yesterday cast doubt on Iran’s willingness to open its nuclear activities to international perusal.

Accused of having nuclear weapons ambitions, Iran — which denies the charge — agreed late last year to throw open its programs to pervasive inspections by the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency and said it would freely provide information to clear up international suspicions.

“We’re not convinced Iran has come completely clean,” Undersecretary of State John R. Bolton said at a security conference in Berlin. “There is no doubt in our minds that Iran continues to pursue nuclear weapons. They have not complied even with the commitment they made in October.”

The diplomats said Iran did not volunteer the designs. Instead, IAEA inspectors had to dig for them.

“Coming up with them is an example of real good inspector work,” one of the diplomats said. “They took information and put it together and put something in front of them that they can’t deny.”

At less-enriched levels, uranium is normally used to generate power. Highly enriched, it can be used for nuclear warheads.

Iran, which says it sought to make low-enriched uranium, has bowed to international pressure and suspended all enrichment. But it continues to make and assemble centrifuges, a development that critics say also throws into question its commitment to dispel suspicions about its nuclear aims.

The IAEA continues to negotiate with Iran on what constitutes suspension, but the agency also is known to be seeking a commitment from Iran to stop assembling centrifuges.

The diplomats said Iran had not yet formally explained why the advanced centrifuge designs were not voluntarily handed over to the agency.

Meanwhile in Moscow, Russian Nuclear Energy Minister Alexander Rumyantsev postponed a planned trip to Iran next week because the countries have not nailed down agreements involving the reactor that Russia is building in the city of Bushehr, a spokesman said.

Russia has been under pressure from Washington to freeze the $800 million deal, with the United States saying it could help Iran develop weapons.

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