VIENNA, Austria (Reuters) # The U.N. nuclear watchdog chief has said he will need full and unlimited cooperation from Iran to verify Tehran’s insistence that it has no secret atomic weapons programme.
Iran said on Monday it would limit the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) access to declared nuclear sites when inspectors arrive this week ahead of an October 31 deadline for Iran to show it has no nuclear weapons programme.
However, to verify Iran’s claims about its controversial uranium-enrichment programme and other aspects of Iran’s atomic activities, the IAEA needs access to facilities that have not been officially declared as nuclear sites.
“If we cannot have full cooperation, full disclosure, unfortunately I’ll have to say that I am not able to verify the Iranian statements (that their nuclear programme is purely peaceful),” IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei told reporters Tuesday.
Iran has until the end of October to convince the IAEA that it has not been diverting resources to covertly make an atomic bomb, as the United States and other countries have alleged.
If ElBaradei tells the IAEA governing board at its November meeting that he cannot verify the Iranian statements, the board would have to report Iran to the U.N. Security Council for possible economic and diplomatic sanctions.
ElBaradei said that IAEA inspectors were leaving on Wednesday for talks in Iran scheduled to begin on Thursday.
He said the priority was understanding the nature of Iran’s uranium enrichment programme, which Washington says would be used to purify uranium for use in a nuclear explosive device # a charge Iran denies.
“The most important issue (is) the nature and extent of Iran’s uranium enrichment programme and that’s our number one priority,” he said.
The IAEA has found weapons-grade uranium at two sites in Iran, diplomats told Reuters, which has raised suspicion that Iran has long been making enriched uranium # a key element in a nuclear weapon.
Iran says that this is due to contamination, but that explanation has met with scepticism inside and outside the IAEA.
Originally Iran had said that its enrichment programme began in 1997, but recently changed its story and told the agency that it began in 1985. This has made understanding the programme even more urgent than it was before, ElBaradei said.
“We need to reconstruct a two-decade old programme,” he said.