Pakistan to meet with UN nuclear agency on Iranian uranium contamination

VIENNA (AFP) — The UN nuclear watchdog is to meet here next week with Pakistani officials as part of its efforts to determine if Iran was using smuggled Pakistani equipment to make enriched uranium that could be used for atom bombs, diplomats said Saturday.
Pakistan had in May sent centrifuge parts to the watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency at its headquarters in Vienna to enable the IAEA to compare microscopic traces of uranium on them with that found on equipment in Iran believed to have been smuggled in from Pakistan.

The IAEA has concluded that “the highly enriched uranium appears to emanate from Pakistan,” from the imported equipment and not from Iranian enrichment work, a Western diplomat close to the IAEA told AFP.

Enriched uranium, made by passing a uranium gas through a series, or cascade, of centrifuge machines, can be fuel for civilian nuclear power reactors or, in highly refined form, the raw material for atom bombs.

The diplomat said Saturday that a “Pakistani delegation is coming to Vienna to begin talks Monday with IAEA safeguards officials to review the IAEA findings.”

The IAEA’s ruling out that Iran was doing work that could have produced weapons-grade uranium “will be seen by those in favour of Iran as another checkmark in their column” to back up Tehran’s rebuttals of US charges that it is secretly developing nuclear weapons, the diplomat said.

The father of Pakistan’s atomic bomb, Abdul Qadeer Khan, has admitted to running an international nuclear black market ring that supplied Iran with atomic technology and parts.

The IAEA has since February 2003 been investigating US charges that the Islamic republic, which says its nuclear programme is a peaceful effort to generate electricity, has a covert weapons programme.

The enriched uranium contamination issue was a main sticking point in the investigation, although others still remain.

The diplomat said the talks with the Pakistanis were part of a review of the IAEA findings that will later in the month also involve independent experts.

Pakistan had in May insisted that the centrifuge parts it sent to the IAEA remained technically under its control and would be brought back home by Pakistani experts, a second diplomat said.

The diplomat said the Pakistanis did not want anyone outside the IAEA to have access to information that could reveal Pakistani nuclear secrets.

IAEA spokesman, Mark Gwozedecky, refused to comment on details but said: “The corroboration process continues and we hope to report on the contamination issue in the September report” to the IAEA board of governors.

The September 3 report will be on Iran’s compliance with international nuclear safeguards as well as an IAEA resolution urging it to re-suspend nuclear fuel work in order to continue talks with the European Union on guaranteeing that its atomic programme is peaceful.

If Iran does not comply, the EU has threatened to ask the IAEA to bring Iran before the UN Security Council for possible sanctions.

The first diplomat said the results of tests comparing the Pakistani equipment with that in Iran for traces of low enriched uranium (LEU), which is below weapons-grade, were “murky.” The diplomat said the “LEU issue will probably never be solved.”

LEU is uranium that is enriched to below 20 per cent of the key isotope uranium 235 and which is not considered weapons-grade.

But LEU can relatively easily be enriched up to high levels.

Another diplomat said the inability to resolve the LEU question meant that the investigation’s results “don’t prove Iran’s story is true. They prove it is plausible.”

IAEA chief Mohammad Al Baradei said on August 11 that while “all declared [nuclear] material in Iran is under verification… we still are not in a position to say that there is no undeclared materials or activities in Iran.” “The jury is still out,” Baradei said, speaking after an emergency meeting of the IAEA which called on Iran to suspend all fuel-cycle work and ordered the September 3 report.

Tehran says open to new EU nuclear proposals, but will not resume freeze

TEHRAN (AFP) — Iran is ready to examine any new European Union proposals aimed at resolving a row over the Islamic republic’s nuclear ambitions but will not return to a full freeze of its activities, the foreign ministry said Saturday.

“It is natural that if they change their proposals, and in those new proposals they recognise the Islamic republic’s rights, then we will look at it,” Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told reporters.

But he added that “of course we are ready to negotiate unconditionally. We will not go back on the UCF (uranium conversion facility) at Isfahan but we are ready to negotiate on Natanz (a uranium enrichment plant) and some other issues.”

Iran is at loggerheads with the international community after resuming uranium ore conversion, the precursor to the process of enrichment, at a facility near Isfahan earlier this month.

The step ended a nine-month freeze agreed during talks with Britain, France and Germany — which have been trying to convince Iran to give up a technology that could also be directed to producing a bomb.

Work at Isfahan was resumed after Iran rejected an offer from the EU-3 of trade and technology incentives in return for a halt to atomic energy fuel cycle activities — the focus of widespread fears that Iran could also acquire nuclear weapons.

But new hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad insisted that talks with the EU could move forward, according to an interview published late Saturday.

“I do not think that negotiations on this matter with the European Union are headed for a deadlock,” Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying by Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has called on Iran to halt all nuclear fuel cycle work and the UN watchdog is to report September 3 on its compliance.

Asefi said a potential visit to Iran by IAEA chief Mohammed Al Baradei ahead of the report was “up to now not on the agenda.”

Iran has refused to backtrack despite the risk of being referred to the UN Security Council, insisting it has the right to nuclear technology for peaceful purposes under the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

But although Iran has resumed uranium conversion — a precursor to enrichment — it has so far maintained its suspension of ultra-sensitive uranium enrichment at its Natanz facility.

On Friday, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Iran’s Islamic regime was as “solid as a mountain” and could easily stand up to international pressure.

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