Iran rapidly expands nuke work

VIENNA (AP) — Iran has rapidly ramped up production of higher-grade enriched uranium over the last few months, the U.N. nuclear agency said Friday, in a confidential report that feeds concerns about how quickly the Islamic republic could produce an atomic bomb.

The International Atomic Energy Agency report also said Iran failed to give a convincing explanation about a quantity of missing uranium metal. Diplomats say the amount unaccounted for is large enough to be used for experiments in arming a nuclear missile.

Iran insists it is not interested in nuclear weapons and says its activities are meant either to generate energy or to be used for research.

But the report contained little assurances the country’s activities are purely peaceful. Instead, it also confirmed that two IAEA missions to Tehran within less than a month had failed to dent Iran’s refusal to assist an IAEA probe of suspicions the country has been secretly working on aspects of a nuclear weapons program.

The IAEA team had hoped to speak with key Iranian scientists suspected of working on the alleged weapons program, break down opposition to their plans to inspect documents related to nuclear work and secure commitments from Iranian authorities to allow future visits.

But the confidential report said that during those two sets of talks “no agreement was reached between Iran and the agency, as major differences existed with respect to approach.”

The report obtained by the Associated Press said the agency continues to have “serious concerns regarding possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear program.”

The issue of suspected weapons-related experiments has been stalled for close to four years, with Iran insisting the allegations are based on doctored intelligence from the U.S., Israel and elsewhere.

Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran’s chief delegate to the IAEA, insisted progress was made.

“Iran has started real action and cooperation with the agency regarding ... the allegations,” he told the AP. “We are determined to work hard with the agency in a professional manner to resolve the issues.”

Senior international officials familiar with the talks painted a different picture. One said that during the last talks, which ended Tuesday, the IAEA team gave the Iranians a 15-page document outlining their concerns, and they “went through item and item and said they were false and fabricated.”

“Sixty-five paragraphs, 65 ‘no’s,” said the official, when asked how the Iranian side responded to each item of concern presented by the agency. He asked for anonymity because his information was privileged.

The IAEA team was composed of senior officials, but the international sources described the Iranian negotiating team as “go-betweens,” with no authority to commit to cooperating with the agency’s probe.

In a 13-page summary late last year, the IAEA listed clandestine activities he said can either be used in civilian or military nuclear programs, or “are specific to nuclear weapons.”

Among these were indications Iran has conducted high-explosives testing to set off a nuclear charge at Parchin — a military site the IAEA team was refused access to on both recent visits to Iran.

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