Meet the new boss, not the same as the old boss? Under new chief, IAEA suggests Iran actively working on nuclear weapons
This could be the start of a refreshing change at the IAEA, but much remains to be seen. “IAEA Fears Iran Working Now on Nuclear Warhead,” by Mark Heinrich for Reuters, February 18:
VIENNA (Reuters) – The U.N. nuclear watchdog fears Iran may be working now to develop a nuclear-armed missile, the agency said on Thursday, throwing independent weight behind Western suspicions of an active Iranian weapons program.
In unusually blunt language surfacing under new chief Yukiya Amano, an International Atomic Energy Agency report for the first time suggested Iran was actively chasing nuclear weapons capability rather than merely having done so in the past.
The IAEA seemed to be cautiously going public with suspicions arising from a classified agency analysis leaked in part last year which concluded that Iran has already honed explosives expertise relevant to a workable nuclear weapon.
The report also confirmed Iran had produced its first, small batch of uranium enriched to a higher purity — 20 percent.
Both developments will intensify pressure on Iran to prove it is not covertly bent on “weaponising” enrichment by allowing unfettered access for IAEA inspectors and investigators, something it rejects in protest at U.N. sanctions.
The United States is already leading a push for the U.N. Security Council to impose a fourth round of sanctions on Iran because of suspicions that it may be developing nuclear weapons, and has received declarations of support from Russia, which has until now been reluctant to expand sanctions.
Tehran says its nuclear program is meant only to yield electricity or radio-isotopes for agriculture or medicine. It took a diametrically opposing view of the report’s conclusions.
“The IAEA’s new report confirmed Iran’s peaceful nuclear activities and the country’s non-deviation toward military purposes,” Iran’s envoy to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, told the state news agency IRNA.
U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the United States did not understand why Iran had refused to “come to the table and engage constructively” over its nuclear program, adding: “You have to draw some conclusions from that.” [...]
IAEA’s new chief, Yukiya Amano, is seen as more inclined to confront Iran than his predecessor, Mohamed ElBaradei, who retired on December 1.
“Now we see from (available intelligence) that certain activities may have continued after 2004,” said a senior official close to the IAEA. “We want to find out from Iran what they’ve had to do with these nuclear explosive-related activities.”
The U.S. director of National Intelligence concluded last year that Iran would not be technically able to devise a nuclear weapon before 2013. But a new intelligence estimate is due soon….