VIENNA (AP) – A senior Iranian envoy accused the International Atomic Energy Agency of false reporting in saying that agency inspectors probing a laboratory for suspected undeclared nuclear experiments found some equipment removed.
Ali Ashgar Soltanieh on Wednesday declined a direct answer when asked if he was blaming the agency for a mistake or if he was suggesting another reason for the alleged false finding. But Soltanieh, Iran’s chief IAEA delegate, said his country would be asking for a formal correction in a letter to agency chief Yukiya Amano within the next week.
Soltanieh was referring to a finding published in the IAEA’s quarterly report on Iran’s nuclear activities that touched on experiments in pyroprocessing, a procedure that can be used to purify uranium metal used in nuclear warheads.
In January, Iran told the agency that it had carried out pyroprocessing experiments, prompting a request from the nuclear agency for more information, but then backtracked in March and denied conducting such activities.
IAEA experts last month revisited the site, the Jabr Ibn Jayan Multipurpose Research Laboratory in Tehran, only to establish “that the electrochemical cell had been removed” from the unit used in the experiments, according to the report.
While Iran often criticizes agency reporting on its activities, it rarely directly challenges its findings and says they are wrong. Soltanieh’s focus on the topic, dealt with in only one paragraph in the nine-page IAEA report, thus appeared to reflect his country’s sensitivity over the issue.
“Paragraph 28 is wrong,” Soltanieh told reporters. “Nothing has been removed. “Whatever is in this paragraph is not correct … and we insist that the director general should correct it.”
The IAEA declined to issue a formal comment. But an agency official familiar with the Iran report said the agency stood by its findings. The official asked for anonymity, citing the IAEA’s decision not to formally react to the Iranian assertion.
The report also confirmed that, beyond its well-established program that produces low enriched uranium, Iran continues to enrich to near 20 percent through a separate, small-scale program using low-enriched feedstock.
That program adds to concerns about Iran’s nuclear activities. Although Tehran says all of its activities are geared solely toward producing nuclear fuel, it is much easier to produce weapons-grade uranium for use in nuclear warheads from 20 percent material than from low-enriched uranium.
Iran justified its decision to go to higher enrichment by saying it would be part of a process to create fuel for a research reactor producing medical isotopes after a deal meant to provide such fuel from abroad fell apart.
It now says it is ready to accept an offer similar to the original one floated seven months ago, fuel from abroad in exchange for shipping out much of its low-enriched uranium. But Iranian officials have said their country would not stop higher-level enrichment even if the fuel swap deal is sealed, something Soltanieh repeated Wednesday. “As long as the fuel is not in the core of the reactor” Iran cannot be sure that the promises of fuel deliveries will be kept, he told reporters, saying Iran has no trust in promises at a time of international tensions over its nuclear program. He declined to say, however, if Iran was ready to stop higher enrichment once the fuel was delivered for the research reactor.
The U.S. and its allies view Tehran’s insistence on continuing higher enrichment even as it offers to accept a swap deal with suspicion, arguing that its rationale to do so would disappear once a swap agreement was in place.
The U.S. and the four other permanent U.N. Security Council members, Russia, China, Britain and France, have tentatively backed a draft fourth set of U.N. sanctions against Iran over its refusal to stop enriching uranium and heed other council demands meant to reduce suspicions over its nuclear aims.