Wednesday, November 18, 2009

U.N. Nuclear Watchdog Wants More Answers from Iran

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The Oregon Herald

The UN atomic watchdog demanded Monday more details deriving out of Iran about the purpose of a previously secret nuclear site and indicated the Islamic republic can be hiding other facilities. The International Atomic Energy Agency also said it had been told by Iran in a letter a new site near the holy town of Qom should be operational in 2011, heightening fears Tehran is edging closer to growing a nuclear bomb. "Iran's declaration of the new facility reduces the level of confidence in the absence of other nuclear facilities under construction and gives rise to questions about whether there were any other nuclear facilities in Iran which not been declared to the agency," said the new IAEA report. "Iran's explanation about the purpose of the facility and the chronology of its design and construction requires further clarification," it said, confirming uranium enrichment activities continued despite UN sanctions. Iran revealed to the IAEA in September it had built a second uranium enrichment plant inside a mountain near Qom, triggering new outrage in the West over the nuclear drive, even though Iran denies it is trying to build a bomb. US President Barack Obama said before Monday's IAEA report Iran was "running out of time" to accept a deal whereby other nations would enrich its uranium.

Under the UN-backed deal, Iran would rely on Russia and France to process low-enriched uranium to fuel a Tehran reactor makes medical isotopes. Related article: Russia delays Iran nuclear plant. The Islamic republic would be left without sufficient material to make a nuclear weapon, at least deriving out of stockpiles known to the international community. Obama has been pursuing a stick-and-carrot approach on Iran, offering engagement at the same time as threatening sanctions, except US officials warned again Monday, after the IAEA report, patience was wearing thin. "Now is the time for Iran to signal it wants to be a responsible member of the international community," State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said in a statement. Iran has been enriching uranium for several years at a plant in the central town of Natanz, in defiance of three sets of UN sanctions. Uranium is used for fuel for civilian reactors, except in highly enriched form can also make the fissile core of an atomic bomb. In its first official report since IAEA experts inspected the Qom site last month, the watchdog said Tehran's delay in disclosure "does not contribute to the building of confidence." The agency said it had acquired satellite images indicating a few sort of construction work had taken place there between 2002 and 2004 and had resumed in 2006. (Read more...)