VIENNA — The U.N. nuclear atomic energy agency said Tuesday for the first time that Iran is suspected of conducting secret experiments whose sole purpose is the development of nuclear arms.
The report is the strongest sign yet that Iran seeks to build a nuclear arsenal, despite claims to the contrary. With Israel threatening a military response, the report opens the way for a new confrontation between the West and Iran.
In its latest report on Iran, the International Atomic Energy Agency outlines the sum of its knowledge on the Islamic Republic's alleged secret nuclear weapons work, including:
—Clandestine procurement of equipment and design information needed to make such arms;
—High explosives testing and detonator development to set off a nuclear charge;
—Computer modeling of a core of a nuclear warhead;
—Preparatory work for a nuclear weapons test, and
—Developing and mounting a nuclear payload onto its Shahab 3 intermediate range missile — a weapon that can reach Israel, Iran's arch foe.
Ahead of the report's release, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned of a possible Israeli military strike against Iran's nuclear program.
He told Israel Radio that he did not expect any new U.N. sanctions on Tehran to persuade it to stop its nuclear defiance, adding: We continue to recommend to our friends in the world and to ourselves, not to take any option off the table."
The "all options on the table" phrase is often used by Israeli politicians to mean a military assault, and Israeli government members have engaged in increased saber rattling recently suggesting that an attack was likely a more effective way to stop Iran's nuclear program than continued diplomacy..
While some of the suspected secret nuclear work outlined in the annex could also be used for peaceful purposes, "others are specific to nuclear weapons," said the confidential report obtained by The Associated Press.
Some of the information contained in the annex was new — including evidence of a large metal chamber at a military site for nuclear-related explosives testing. The bulk, however, was a compilation and expansion of alleged work already partially revealed by the agency.
But a senior diplomat familiar with the report said its significance lay in its comprehensiveness, thereby reflecting that Iran apparently had engaged in all aspects of testing that were needed to develop such a weapon. Also significant was the agency's decision to share most of what it knows or suspect about Iran's secret work the 35-nation IAEA board and the U.N. Security Council after being stonewalled by Tehran in its attempts to probe such allegations.
Copies of the report went to board members and the council, which has imposed four sets of U.N. sanction on Tehran for refusing to stop activities that could be used to make a nuclear weapon and refusing to cooperate with IAEA attempts to fully understand its nuclear program.
The agency said the annex was based on more than 1,000 pages of intelligence and other information forwarded by more than 10 nations and material gathered by the IAEA itself.
The report also includes details that Iran sought to miniaturize a Pakistani nuclear weapon design to fit on its ballistic missiles and continued working to raise the potential power of the weapons at least until 2010, citing “credible” intelligence from more than 10 countries.
Iran carried out “work on the development of an indigenous design of a nuclear weapon including the testing of components,” Bloomberg reported.
“Some activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device continued after 2003” and “some may still be ongoing.”
The document, drawing on eight years of collected evidence, shows that Iran worked to redesign and miniaturize a Pakistani nuclear-weapon design by using a web of front companies and foreign experts, according to the report and an international official familiar with the IAEA’s investigation.
The IAEA’s conclusion that Iran continued weapons work until at least until last year clashes with U.S. intelligence estimates that Tehran’s government stopped pursuing a nuclear bomb in 2003. Until now, atomic inspectors had only voiced concerns publicly about the “possible existence” of weapons work in Iran. The new analysis is likely to heighten international pressure on Iran.
The IAEA report “could increase the risk of a military attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities” and therefore “justified a certain risk premium on the price of oil,” Commerzbank wrote today in a research note. Crude oil for December delivery rose 65 cents, or 0.7 percent, to $96.17 a barrel at 12:49 p.m. on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Futures are up 5.2 percent this year.
Iran worked on high explosives design and the development of a neutron generator, the part of an atomic bomb that generates a nuclear chain reaction, according to the senior official.
“Iran embarked on a four year program, from around 2006 onwards, on the further validation of the design of this neutron source,” the IAEA report said, citing one member state that shared information with inspectors.
The IAEA also revealed details of “large-scale high explosives” experiments conducted near Marivan in 2003. The experiments, which drew on technology shared by a Russian nuclear scientist, would have helped Iran calibrate the explosive impact of a bomb’s uranium core, according to the report.
“The information comes from a wide variety of independent sources, including from a number of member states, from the agency’s own efforts and from information provided by Iran itself,” the report said.
Iran has told IAEA inspectors that evidence used against the Persian Gulf country was forged.
It is the first time that the IAEA has published a comprehensive analysis of Iran’s nuclear-weapons work. Data before 2003 is more comprehensive than information seen thereafter, according to the senior official. The Vienna-based agency shared a copy of the information with Iranian authorities before the report was published, the official said.
Iran increased its supply of 20 percent-enriched uranium to 73.7 kilograms from 70.8 kilograms reported in September at a pilot nuclear facility in Natanz about 300 kilometers (186 miles) south of Tehran, the IAEA said. Iran has produced 4,922 kilograms of uranium enriched to less than 5 percent compared with 4,543 kilograms in the last IAEA report.
About 630 kilograms of low-enriched uranium, if further purified, could yield the 15 kilograms to 22 kilograms of weapons-grade uranium needed by an expert bomb maker to craft a weapon, according to the London-based Verification Research, Training and Information Center, a non-governmental observer to the IAEA that is funded by European governments.
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