August 28, 2009 / 9:44 PM / 10 years ago

U.N. nuclear watchdog denies hiding Iran information

VIENNA (Reuters) - The U.N. nuclear watchdog on Friday hit back at reports that it had hidden information about Iran’s disputed atomic program, in a rare public comment on the agency’s sensitive inspections work.

Some media reports, citing unnamed Western diplomats and Israeli officials, have said International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei withheld “evidence” of an alleged Iranian drive to obtain nuclear weapons.

“Time and again unidentified sources feed the media and Member States with misinformation or misinterpretation,” IAEA spokesman Marc Vidricaire said in a statement.

“There are articles claiming that the (IAEA) secretariat is hiding information, and that there are sharp disagreements among staff members involved about the contents of the report. Needless to say, such allegations have no basis in fact.” Separately, the IAEA said on Friday Iran had slowed its expansion of uranium enrichment slightly, and met some demands for better monitoring, but that it needed to address credible allegations of covert atom bomb research [ID:nLS247273].

The West suspects Iran is pursuing the means to produce atomic bombs behind the facade of a civilian nuclear program.

Iran says it wants only electricity from nuclear power. It has rejected U.N. demands to halt its enrichment and has been hit by three rounds of international sanctions.

To help win Russia and China’s support for a further set of sanctions, Western powers urged the IAEA to release a classified summary of its inquiry into Western intelligence reports alleging Iran illicitly studied how to design a nuclear bomb, diplomats said.

Such a summary appeared to have been included in Friday’s report. But the IAEA has no evidence showing undeniably that Iran has a bomb agenda, a diplomat close to the IAEA said earlier this week.

The diplomat said ElBaradei had been loath to publish information that could be used for political ends and make the agency look biased against Iran.

ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace laureate, retires in November after 12 years in office. He clashed with the Bush administration over its hawkish policy toward Iraq and Iran, saying it was confrontational and undermined access for U.N. inspectors.

He said earlier this year the holder of the IAEA director-general post must have the “guts to stand his ground” and not bow to intense political pressure.

His successor, Japan’s veteran IAEA envoy Yukiya Amano, has said he has not seen any evidence in the agency’s files that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons capability.

Editing by Andrew Roche

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