Iranian officials are repeating past claims that the Islamic nation's nuclear program is intended for peaceful purposes, as details surfaced Thursday of a secret United Nations assessment suggesting Iran was capable of making a nuclear bomb and was developing a missile system that could carry one.
Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, told the Washington Post on Wednesday in a interview published Thursday that Iran is sincere in wanting to negotiate with the West. He added that Western countries should "read between the lines" about its intentions.
It wasn't clear from the report what Western countries could hope to find "between the lines," but Soltanieh called discussions with those countries a "real, new window of opportunity."
But NBC News reports that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in an interview that his country would not rule out weapons as it pursues peaceful uses of nuclear technology.
"We have always believed in talking, in negotiating — that is our logic. Nothing has changed,” Ahmadinejad told NBC through an interpreter. But “if you are talking about the enrichment of uranium for peaceful purposes, this will never be closed down here in Iran.”
The confidential U.N. watchdog report painted a more alarming picture.
Iran experts at International Atomic Energy Agency believe Tehran has the ability to make a nuclear bomb and worked on developing a missile system that can carry an atomic warhead, according to a confidential report seen by The Associated Press.
The document drafted by senior officials at the U.N. watchdog is the clearest indication yet that those officials share Washington's views on Iran's weapon-making capabilities and missile technology — even if they have not made those views public.
The document, titled "Possible Military Dimension of Iran's Nuclear Program," appeared to be the so-called IAEA "secret annex" on Iran's alleged nuclear arms program that the U.S., France, Israel and other IAEA members say is being withheld by agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei — claims the nuclear watchdog denies.
It is a record of IAEA findings since the agency began probing Iran's nuclear program in 2007 and has been continuously updated.
The information in the document that is either new, more detailed or represents a more forthright conclusion than found in published IAEA reports includes:
— The IAEA's assessment that Iran worked on developing a chamber inside a ballistic missile capable of housing a warhead payload "that is quite likely to be nuclear."
— That Iran engaged in "probable testing" of explosives commonly used to detonate a nuclear warhead — a method known as a "full-scale hemispherical explosively driven shock system."
— An assessment that Iran worked on developing a system "for initiating a hemispherical high explosive charge" of the kind used to help spark a nuclear blast.
In another key finding, an excerpt notes: "The agency ... assesses that Iran has sufficient information to be able to design and produce a workable implosion nuclear device (an atomic bomb) based on HEU (highly enriched uranium) as the fission fuel."
ElBaradei said in 2007 there was no "concrete evidence" that Iran was engaged in atomic weapons work — a source of friction with the United States, which has sought a hard-line stance on Tehran's nuclear ambitions.
Responding to the AP report, the agency did not deny the existence of a confidential record of its knowledge and assessment of Iran's alleged attempts to make nuclear weapons. But an agency statement said the IAEA "has no concrete proof that there is or has been a nuclear weapon program in Iran."
It cited ElBaradei as telling the agency's 35-nation governing board last week that "continuing allegations that the IAEA was withholding information on Iran are politically motivated and totally baseless."
"Information from a variety of sources ... is critically assessed by a team of experts working collectively in accordance with the agency's practices," it said.
"The IAEA reiterates that all relevant information and assessments that have gone through the above process have already been provided to the IAEA Board of Governors in reports of the director general."
The document traces Iran's nuclear arms ambitions as far back as 1984, when current supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was president and Iran was at war with Iraq.
The Obama administration said Thursday it was scrapping a Bush-era plan for a missile defense shield in Eastern Europe. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the decision came after U.S. intelligence concluded that Iran's short- and medium-range missiles were developing more rapidly than previously projected and now pose a greater near-term threat than the intercontinental ballistic missiles addressed by the plan under former President George W. Bush.
Iran is under three sets of U.N. Security Council sanctions for refusing to freeze enrichment, the key to making both nuclear fuel and weapons-grade uranium. It is blocking IAEA attempts to probe allegations based on U.S., Israeli and other intelligence that it worked on a nuclear weapons program.
Iran recently agreed to meet Oct. 1 with the U.S. and five other world powers seeking curbs on its atomic activities for the first time in more than a year. But Tehran says it is not prepared to discuss its nuclear activities.
The Associated Press contributed to tihs report.