Middle East
3:41 pm
Mon March 5, 2012

Atomic Energy Chief: Iran Hasn't Resolved Questions

Originally published on Mon March 5, 2012 5:18 pm

The troubled relationship between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency doesn't appear to be getting any better.

Back in February, senior agency delegations traveled twice to Iran to clarify its concerns about possible nuclear weapons work.

And on Monday, the head of the IAEA, Yukiya Amano, said Iran is not providing the necessary cooperation that would allow the agency to give credible assurances that Iran's nuclear work is entirely peaceful.

"The agency continues to have serious concerns regarding possible military dimensions to Iran's nuclear program," Amano said in Vienna, where he was meeting with the agency's board of governors. "I had hoped to be able to inform this board that substantive progress had been made. However, despite intensive discussions, there was no agreement on a structured approach to resolve these issues."

Monday's developments in Vienna came as President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met at the White House to discuss Iran's nuclear ambitions.

Israel says time is running out to act against Iran before it develops a nuclear bomb. The United States, while also expressing serious concerns about the Iranian nuclear program, says it believes that sanctions against Iran should be given more time. President Obama stressed that the U.S. was determined to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

"The United States will always have Israel's back when it comes to Israel's security," Obama told Netanyahu.

Meanwhile, Iran's leaders insist the nuclear program has no military dimensions.

IAEA Wants More Information

The IAEA's list of the concerns about Iran is well known: the possible production of neutron initiators and other triggers for a nuclear explosion; and suspected work on shaping uranium metal, a possible component of a bomb's core.

The agency's analysts are especially concerned about tests that may have taken place at a military base at Parchin, just southeast of the capital Tehran. On two recent occasions, the IAEA asked to visit Parchin. Both times it was rebuffed.

"We are aware that there are some activities at Parchin, and it makes us believe that going there sooner is better than later," Amano said.

His agency has information — in part based on satellite photos — that Iranian authorities may have removed evidence of explosive tests at the Parchin site.

In recent reports, the agency said it believed Iran engaged in a full-scale nuclear weapons program until 2003, when the project came to a halt.

But the agency says it has credible evidence that work on aspects of nuclear weapons technology may have continued after 2003, and that some of that work may be taking place today.

Hardliners Dominate Iranian Elections

Despite all the talk internationally about Iran's nuclear activities, the big news topic in Iran is the parliamentary election that was held Friday.

Several thousand candidates vied for 290 seats in the parliament. Almost all were conservatives of one stripe or another. Reformists were either banned or boycotted the vote.

For some, the election was seen as part of an ongoing contest for power between the country's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

But Iran's news media are reporting that it was hardly a contest. Supporters of Khamenei are said to have soundly defeated partisans of Ahmadinejad. Local news media quoting the interior ministry saying 75 percent of the Khamenei candidates won seats.

Over the weekend, the Interior Minister announced that turnout was a relatively high 64 percent. But some critics of the regime have questioned the figure, suspecting the actual turnout was much lower.

The hostility toward Ahmadinejad among conservatives runs so deep now that the current parliament ordered him to appear soon to answer questions about his administration, a possible first step to impeachment.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Today, while the topic of Iran occupied Washington, it was also discussed at the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna. The agency's head, Yukiya Amano, said he cannot assure the world that Iran's nuclear activities are entirely peaceful.

NPR's Mike Shuster tells us more.

MIKE SHUSTER, BYLINE: The International Atomic Energy Agency has used tough language recently to describe its troubled relationship with Iran. In February, senior agency delegations traveled twice to Iran to clarify its concerns about possible nuclear weapons work. Today, Yukiya Amano, the agency's director, said Iran is not providing the necessary cooperation, so the IAEA can't provide credible assurance that Iran's nuclear work is entirely peaceful.

DR. YUKIYA AMANO: The agency continues to have serious concerns regarding possible military dimensions to Iran's nuclear program. I had hoped to be able to inform this board that substantive progress had been made. However, despite intensive discussions, there is no agreement on a structured approach to resolve these issues.

SHUSTER: The list of the agency's concerns is well-known; possible production of neutron initiators and other triggers for a nuclear explosion; also suspected work on shaping uranium metal, a possible component of a bomb's core. The agency's analysts are especially concerned about high explosives tests that may have taken place at a military base at Parchin.

Parchin is a priority for us, Amano said. Twice recently the agency asked to visit Parchin. Twice it was rebuffed.

AMANO: We are aware that there are some activities at Parchin, and it makes us believe that going there sooner is better than later.

SHUSTER: The IAEA has information in part based on satellite photos that the authorities may have removed evidence of explosive tests at the Parchin site. In recent reports, the IAEA said it believed Iran engaged in a full-scale nuclear weapons program until 2003, when it came to a halt. However, the agency says it has credible evidence that work on aspects of nuclear weapons technology may have continued after 2003, some of which may be underway today.

Iran's leaders insist the nuclear program has no military dimension.

Despite all the talk internationally about Iran's nuclear activities, the big news topic in Iran today was Friday's parliamentary election. Several thousand candidates vied for 290 seats in the parliament. Almost all were conservatives of one stripe or another. Reformists were either banned or boycotted.

For some the election was seen as a contest for power between President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. But Iran's news media are reporting it was hardly a contest. Supporters of Khamenei were said to have soundly defeated partisans of Ahmadinejad. Local news media quoting the Ministry of the Interior said 75 percent of the Khamenei candidates won seats.

Over the weekend, the interior minister announced that the turnout was 64 percent, an epic election some hardliners proclaimed. Some critics of the regime call it an invented election. The hostility toward Ahmadinejad among conservatives runs so deep now that the current parliament ordered him to appear soon to answer questions about his administration, a possible first step to impeachment.

Mike Shuster, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.

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