Iran's Nuke Disclosures Undermine U.S. Efforts

It's still unclear whether Iran tried to make atomic bombs, but the nation's sudden openness about its nuclear program seems to have hurt a U.S. drive to haul it before the U.N. Security Council.

An International Atomic Energy Agency (search) report leaves no question that Iran covered up past nuclear programs -- including enriching uranium and processing small amounts of plutonium -- that Washington says prove Tehran's intent to manufacture weapons.

The United States fears that within a decade Iran (search) could put nuclear warheads on its Shahab-3 missiles, which could reach Israel. A U.S. intelligence report heard by Congress earlier this year expressed concern Iran's nuclear agenda included producing "fissile material for nuclear weapons."

Part of the IAEA document, released Monday, apparently bolsters claims by Bush administration officials that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons.

The document, prepared for a Nov. 20 meeting of the IAEA's board of governors, lists numerous nuclear cover-ups, some over decades, and says they effectively represent Iran's violations of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (search).

Tehran's recent disclosures "clearly show that in the past, Iran had concealed many aspects of its nuclear activities, which resulted in breaches of its obligations of the safeguard agreement," the passage said.

In comments to The Associated Press Tuesday, Ali Akbar Salehi, Iran's chief delegate to the IAEA, suggested that Iran did not consider it had violated any safeguards.

The report's wording on breaching safeguards indicates "that there are strings being pulled by influential countries," Salehi said, alluding to the United States.

"We feel that the report has recognized the fact that Iran has revealed all its activities," he said.

IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei's report found "no evidence" Tehran tried to make atomic bombs, but said such efforts cannot be ruled out until Iran's previously covert activities are further examined.

The Bush administration wants Iran declared in violation of the treaty at that Nov. 20 meeting -- a move leading to U.N. Security Council involvement and possible sanctions.

But Iran's diplomatic maneuvering before the meeting appears to be shifting the 35-nation board away from a harsh response.

Within recent weeks, Iran has swung from belligerent denial of wrongdoing to acknowledging past "mistakes" in not reporting honestly to the agency. While still maintaining it only wants to generate nuclear power, it has delivered what it says is complete information about past suspect activities.

Last month, Iran announced it would suspend uranium enrichment and throw open its nuclear programs to unfettered agency inspections -- moves that Ali Akbar Salehi, Iran's chief delegate to the IAEA, said left the United States "isolated."

On Monday, Tehran delivered on those promises. Hasan Rowhani, the powerful head of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, said uranium enrichment was suspended and a letter committing his country to extensive inspections was deposited with the IAEA.

The announcement, which came hours before the release of ElBaradei's report, was made in Moscow, a key IAEA board member and Tehran's potential partner in an $800 million deal to help build Iran's first nuclear power plant at Bushehr on the shore of the Persian Gulf.

A senior diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said most board members want to encourage Iran to continue cooperating with the agency instead of driving it into a corner.

Diplomats said the board might ask the Security Council to closely track Iran's commitment to cooperating with the IAEA. Also, ElBaradei probably will be given several months to investigate Iran's past activities and report back to the board.

David Albright, a former Iraq weapons inspector who runs the Institute for Science and International Security, said from Washington that Iran "understood that if they took these steps they would generate goodwill."

"There is now the danger that if it is slapped in the face, it may say it's not worth cooperating and actually build those nuclear weapons everyone fears they may be working on."