VIENNA (Reuters) - Iran has resolved U.N. questions about tests with plutonium, a key fuel for atomic bombs, and the International Atomic Energy Agency considers the matter closed, according to the text of an IAEA-Iran accord released on Monday.
It would be the first major issue relating to the scope of Iran’s disputed nuclear program closed by the U.N. nuclear watchdog in a four-year investigation stonewalled up to now, with other questions to be settled within the next few months.
Iran and the IAEA reached a deal on August 21 meant to clarify questions about indications of illicit attempts to make atomic bombs in Iran’s declared drive for peaceful nuclear energy — suspicions that helped lead to U.N. sanctions against Tehran.
The plan’s other goal is to ensure regular, effective access for IAEA inspectors to Iran’s underground uranium enrichment plant where it plans industrial production of nuclear fuel.
But Western diplomats said the plan was flawed for not committing Iran to resume observing the IAEA’s Additional Protocol, which permits wider-ranging, short-notice inspections of sites not declared to be nuclear.
Western powers embroiled in a standoff with Iran over its refusal to heed U.N. resolutions demanding it stop nuclear work say there is no way to rule out the risk Iran might have a covert military nuclear facility without the Protocol in place.
And the plan also declares that once Iran had clarified the issues listed, the IAEA would declare there were “no remaining questions and ambiguities” about Iran’s past activity, a gesture analysts called problematic without more sweeping inspections.
Iran has insisted that it seeks only electricity, not explosives, from enriched uranium.
The plan’s text said IAEA officials judged last week that information given by Iran this summer abut its plutonium experiments was consistent with inspectors’ findings.
“Thus this matter is resolved. This will be communicated officially by the Agency to Iran through a letter,” it said, without specifying exactly how suspicions were defused.
Iran and the IAEA also agreed to forge a legally binding accord governing inspections at the expanding, underground Natanz enrichment complex by the end of September.
Iran would then explain shadowy efforts to build advanced P-2 centrifuges, which can enrich uranium 2-3 times as fast as the outmoded, breakdown-prone P-1 model it now uses. Iran committed to resolving the P-2 issue by November.
Iran committed to settling questions surrounding particles of weapons-grade enriched uranium found in Tehran’s Technical University once the centrifuge matter was closed.
Other questions about Iranian activity to be closed, but without a deadline spelled out in the plan, included:
* What Iran did with a black-market document in Iran’s possession describing how to machine uranium metal into hemisphere shapes suitable for the core of a bomb.
* Western intelligence about secret, administrative links between uranium processing, high explosives tests and a missile warhead design. Iran agreed, “as a sign of goodwill and cooperation”, to examine the evidence that it previously rejected as “politically motivated and baseless allegations”.
The IAEA has touted the plan as a “milestone” for having secured Iranian agreement to a timetable for transparency.
But a Western diplomat accredited to the IAEA said a weakness of the plan was its failure to spell out steps Iran would take to provide access “to people, places and documentation” needed for closure.
“The IAEA’s (35-nation) board of governors has an obligation to ensure that, apart from resolving outstanding issues, confidence in Iran’s nuclear program is rebuilt — and that will take time, beyond December, and an Additional Protocol.”
U.S. nuclear analyst David Albright told Reuters: “This plan looks problematic. Nothing in Iran justifies the IAEA pulling its punches without the Additional Protocol. You should never give up the right to ask further questions and follow up.”