Published September 16, 2004
| Associated Press
VIENNA, Austria – A U.S. official expressed alarm Thursday about a possible nuclear-weapons-related test site in Iran and accused the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency of keeping silent on its own concerns about the issue.
The official — a senior member of the U.S. delegation at the International Atomic Energy Agency's (search) board of governors — spoke as U.S and European negotiators moved closer to agreement to censure Iran for reneging on a freeze on uranium enrichment and setting a deadline for Tehran to dispel suspicions it is trying to make nuclear arms.
The official, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity, said the United States was suspicious that Iran's Parchin complex (search), southeast of the capital, Tehran, is being used by the Islamic Republic to test high explosives, possibly with applications to nuclear weapons.
"This is a serious omission," on the part of IAEA director general Mohamed ElBaradei (search), said the official, alluding to the lack of specific mention on Parchin in a report written for the board by ElBaradei on the status of a probe into Iran's nuclear activities.
The official said the United States would "go to the other board members" and make sure the suspicious site is considered in any Iran resolution submitted to the board meeting.
An Iran delegation member dismissed as "a lie" reports that the agency had asked to visit the site. IAEA officials refused comment.
A diplomat who follows the agency, however, said there was an oblique mention of Parchin in the ElBaradei report, in one paragraph.
"The agency has discussed with the Iranian authorities ... information relating to dual use equipment and materials which have applications in the conventional military area and in the civilian sphere as well as in the nuclear military area," the paragraph reads.
The revelations on Parchin were likely to be used by Washington to push its case for tough Iran resolution.
The latest version Thursday — made available in full to The Associated Press — showed the two sides agreed on the need for Iran to agree to a full freeze on uranium enrichment but still negotiating language and a list of other demands.
The draft expressed "serious concern" that Iran "has not heeded repeated calls from the board to suspend ... all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities." And it expressed alarm at Iranian plans to process more than 40 tons of raw uranium into uranium hexafluoride (search), the feed stock for enrichment.
It also urged Iran to suspend all such activities; called on ElBaradei to submit a report by November reviewing the past two years of his Iran probe, and demanded Iran "resolve all outstanding issues and inconsistencies" feeding fears it may have a weapons program.
A proposal in the draft submitted by the United States, Canada and Australia would also set an Oct. 31 deadline on Iran to meet all the conditions.
While no punitive action is directly threatened should it fail to do so, one western diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity described the date as an "indirect trigger" that could open the way for referral of Iran to the U.N. Security Council.
The United States is seeking European support for Security Council action if Tehran defies the call for an enrichment freeze and other demands.
Iran is not prohibited from enrichment under its obligations to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (search). But it has faced mounting international pressure to suspend such activities, which can produce uranium for generating power or making nuclear weapons, as a good-faith gesture to prove it is not seeking to make atomic weapons.
The IAEA meeting adjourned Wednesday to allow for back-room negotiations and consultations with capitals. Plans were to reconvene Friday for a vote on a final version of the Iran resolution.
Last week, Iran confirmed an IAEA report that it planned to convert more than 40 tons of raw uranium into uranium hexafluoride.
Even before that, international concerns over Iran's nuclear program were growing, fueled by suspicions that Tehran had never really suspended enrichment activities, as it had pledged to do so a year ago.
An IAEA report gave Iran some good marks for cooperating with the most recent phase of a two-year agency probe into the country's nearly two-decade-old covert nuclear program, which surfaced publicly only two years ago. But the report also said Iran must do more to banish all suspicions that it harbors nuclear weapons ambitions.