UN watchdog alarmed over Iranian nuclear missile plans
Atomic energy agency says Tehran actively chasing weapons capability
Published 19/02/2010 | 05:00
THE UN nuclear watchdog last night expressed concern that Iran may be developing a nuclear-armed missile.
For the first time last night the agency threw independent weight behind Western suspicions of an active Iranian weapons programme.
In unusually blunt language surfacing under new chief Yukiya Amano, an International Atomic Energy Agency report suggested Iran was actively chasing nuclear weapons capability.
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.
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 UN sanctions. The United States is already leading a push for the UN Security Council to impose a fourth round of sanctions on Iran over 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, who says its nuclear programme is meant only to yield electricity or radio-isotopes for agriculture or medicine, 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 towards military purposes," Iran's envoy to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, told the state news agency IRNA.
US State Department spokesman PJ Crowley said he did not understand why Iran had refused to "come to the table and engage constructively" over its nuclear programme, adding: "You have to draw some conclusions from that."
The IAEA has been investigating Western intelligence reports indicating Iran has coordinated efforts to process uranium, test explosives at high altitude and revamp a ballistic missile cone in a way suitable for a nuclear warhead for several years. In 2007 the United States issued an assessment saying Iran had halted such research in 2003 and probably not resumed it.
But its key Western allies believe Iran continued the programme and the IAEA report offered independent support for that perception for the first time.
"The information available to the agency is extensive . . . broadly consistent and credible in terms of the technical detail, the timeframe in which the activities were conducted and the people and organisations involved," the report said.