VIENNA The new U.N. nuclear agency chief said on Monday his report Iran could be trying to develop a nuclear-armed missile was factual and impartial, rejecting Iranian suggestions he was biased toward Western powers.
Yukiya Amano spelled out a "clear" approach to Iran's nuclear activity after what diplomats said was the reluctance of his predecessor Mohamed ElBaradei to confront Iran due to his skepticism about the veracity of Western intelligence on Tehran.
Amano's blunter line on Iran could be significant if it increases momentum toward harsher United Nations sanctions on Iran. Six world powers have begun deliberations on more sanctions at U.N. Security Council level in New York. In an address to the U.N. agency's board of governors and a news conference, Amano did not repeat a politically sensitive reference in a February 18 report on Iran about "the possible existence in Iran of past or current undisclosed activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile."
Diplomats said Amano's reticence on Monday may have been a gesture to dampen tensions within the IAEA's governing body after a developing nation bloc, to which Iran belongs, suggested his report was not sufficiently balanced.
"In my view, this report is factual and absolutely impartial. That is the essence ... it took stock of the whole picture. I wanted the report to be clear, straightforward, easy to read and understand," Amano told reporters.
He said intelligence information that hardened the IAEA's disquiet about possible nuclear weapons-relevant activity in Iran was collected from multiple sources and was consistent in detail, timeline, and Iranian officials and agencies cited.
"We have an integrated team of experts, we have experience. And the information is extensive. We cross-check it. After this process, we are saying that altogether it raises concern."
"CHOSE OUR WORDS CAREFULLY"
Asked to address Iranian accusations of bias, he said: "My report does not say that Iran (indisputably) has or had a nuclear weapons program. I want to make that clear. We have chosen our words carefully," Amano said.
He said it was urgent for Iran to dispel suspicions by suspending nuclear fuel production, allowing unfettered U.N. inspections and opening up to IAEA investigators.
Iranian officials have portrayed Amano as lacking experience, competence and independence from Western powers, something IAEA officials and Western diplomats strongly deny.
Iran denies ever seeking nuclear bomb capability, saying its uranium enrichment drive is only for peaceful energy purposes.
Iran increased disquiet in the IAEA about its behavior last month by, according to Amano's report, starting enriching uranium to higher, 20 percent purity before inspectors could get to the scene and enhance surveillance methods.
Iran's move heightened suspicions that its end game is a stockpile of bomb-grade uranium enriched to 90 percent.
A senior diplomat close to the IAEA said safeguards against illicit escalation of enrichment beyond civilian uses remained weak and the agency was pressing Iran to allow snap inspections, "within minutes of notice," at the 20 percent production site.
(Additional reporting by Sylvia Westall; Editing by Myra MacDonald)