VIENNA (AFP) â€” UN nuclear inspectors will not have crucial Iranian samples analysed in time for a meeting November 24, suggesting the UN atomic agency may be unable to rule whether to refer Iran to the UN Security Council for violating international safeguards, diplomats said Friday.
UN inspectors got access this week to do environmental swipes to test for the presence of nuclear material at Iran’s Parchin military testing facility, where the United States suspects secret weapons work is taking place.
“But analysing the samples will not be finished until after the November 24-25 meeting” in Vienna of the watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) board of governors, said a diplomat, who asked not to be identified due to the sensitivity of the issue.
“I think it’s way too close,” said a European diplomat close to the IAEA, saying that lack of this information would make it difficult to decide on the Iranian case.
“We have been waiting so long for Parchin, so we must wait for the results,” the diplomat said.
Washington claims Iran may be testing high-explosive charges with an inert core of depleted uranium at Parchin, 30 kilometres southeast of the capital Tehran, as a dry test for how a bomb with fissile material would work.
Iran faces the risk of referral to the Security Council over its atomic programme, after the IAEA in September found it to be in “non-compliance” with the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
Diplomats say that Tehran appears to be showing more cooperation with IAEA investigators in order to avoid referral to the Security Council, which could impose trade sanctions, diplomats said.
But the IAEA may be running out of time to finish its investigation before November 24.
Efforts to get Russia, which is building Iran’s first nuclear power reactor, to back the US-European Union drive for referral may also need more time, diplomats said.
“If the Russians don’t come around, there could not be referral in November,” a European diplomat told AFP last month.
Western diplomats are becoming increasingly frustrated by Tehran’s tactics under new Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, including refusing to suspend nuclear fuel work.
Ahmadinejad also drew widespread condemnation in the West for calling for the destruction of Israel.
EU foreign ministers will review the bloc’s policy on Iran next week.
“Not only have we seen no progress, we have seen a regression,” said an EU diplomat in Brussels, noting that Tehran had taken a political turn for the worse.
IAEA deputy director general for safeguards, Ollie Heinonen, and two other IAEA inspectors “went Tuesday to Parchin,” a diplomat close to the IAEA told AFP.
The inspectors took “environmental samples,” which are swipes to see if traces of radioactive particles can be found that would prove the presence of nuclear material.
Full analysis of the swipes would take up to six weeks, although preliminary results could be much sooner, diplomats said.
Visits to sites like Parchin are beyond NPT safeguards requirements, which are limited to inspecting sites where there is sure to be nuclear material.
There may be no nuclear material present at Parchin if the Iranians did “dry testing” bomb simulations with non-radioactive metals.
In any case, a diplomat said, “we don’t expect those samples to show any undeclared nuclear activities, after all the time Iran was given to sanitise those sites.”
IAEA inspectors had first visited Parchin in January but saw only five out of what are a much larger number of buildings. The Iranian government had up until this week refused a follow-up visit.
The atomic agency has a list of items it wants to clarify besides Parchin and lack of full Iranian cooperation could still lead the IAEA board to refer the matter to the Security Council.