VIENNA (Reuters) – Arms experts say a U.N. nuclear watchdog report on Iran supports U.S. claims that Tehran has a secret atomic weapons programme by detailing a two-decade cover-up of research possibly linked to bomb making.
Despite Iran’s secretiveness and the array of activities possibly associated with weapons, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) concluded there was no evidence to date Iran had a weapons programme. Iran has always denied the charge.
“The report is a stunning revelation of how far a country can get in making The Bomb, while pretending to comply with international inspections,” said Gary Milhollin of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, a U.S.-based non-profit think-tank. “This is a classic case of a bomb in the basement.”
“Iran has secretly enriched uranium, made plutonium, and hidden the evidence of it from the world,” he told Reuters. “There’s only one reason why anybody would do that # because they want to make the bomb.
The IAEA said in a confidential report circulated on Monday that Iran had a centrifuge uranium enrichment programme for 18 years and a hi-tech laser enrichment programme for 12 years, both of which it hid from the U.N.
The report also said Iran admitted to producing small amounts of plutonium, useable in a bomb and with virtually no civilian uses, and had conducted secret tests of its enrichment centrifuges using nuclear material. The IAEA said it would take time to say whether the programme was peaceful.
On Wednesday, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami insisted Tehran’s nuclear plans were purely peaceful. “It’s not important what machinery we have, it’s important that we are not pursuing nuclear weapons,” he said.
The United States says Iran’s nuclear power programme is merely a front for building nuclear bombs and wants the IAEA governing board to report Tehran to the U.N. Security Council for repeatedly violating the NPT when the board meets next week.
However, Washington has few allies on the board, diplomats said, with most members supporting France, Germany and Britain, who would rather encourage Iran’s new mode of full cooperation with the IAEA than punish it for past failures.
Tehran signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1970, though some believe that the U.S-backed Shah, toppled in the 1979 revolution, was seeking weapons.
“The Iranians are…following the textbook written by the late Shah,” Harald Mueller of Germany’s Frankfurt Peace Research Institute told Reuters.
Trevor Findlay, head of the London-based Verification Research, Training and Information Centre, said: “Iran’s (atomic) programme appears not to be on the scale of, or as advanced as, the Iraqi programme”, but he said Iran was in clear violation of its NPT obligation to report all atomic activities to the IAEA.
On Monday, Iran gave the IAEA a letter confirming it would sign the NPT’s Additional Protocol, which would give the U.N. the right to conduct more intrusive, short-notice inspections to flush out any secret weapons-related activities.
“(The protocol) will make it difficult for Iran to pursue a clandestine nuclear weapons programme, but it does not prevent Iran from pursuing (legal) fuel-cycle capabilities that would give the country a ‘break-out’ nuclear weapon option,” said Miriam Rajkumar of the U.S.-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.