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. UN nuclear watchdog outlining nuclear worries over Iran, North Korea
VIENNA (AFP) Mar 01, 2005
The UN atomic agency was Tuesday preparing to urge North Korea to return to six-party talks and hear a report on Iran's ambitions as it discussed concerns over the possible spread of nuclear weapons.

The International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) 35-nation board of governors was working on a resolution, presented as a summary by the board chairman, urging North Korea to return to six-party talks, diplomats said.

The summary was being drafted by five of those states which are on the board -- China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the United States.

The five differ about how tough the statement should be.

"Do you condemn North Korea for allegedly having nuclear weapons or just ask them nicely to return to talks," said a Western diplomat, who asked not to be named.

IAEA chief ElBaradei had Monday said North Korea's recent declaration "that it possesses nuclear weapons is a matter of utmost concern."

North Korea kicked IAEA inspectors out in December 2002 and withdrew from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

It now says it has atomic weapons and has withdrawn from the six-party talks on its nuclear program.

On Iran, IAEA deputy director for verification Pierre Goldschmidt is to report to the board Tuesday to say that Tehran has not yet allowed IAEA experts to follow up on inspections of Iran's Parchin military facility, where Washington charges Tehran is simulating testing of atomic weapons, diplomats said.

The IAEA is also looking into other new matters, such as tunnels being built that could hide nuclear material or equipment, and has still not resolved two lingering major questions -- that of Iran's research into sophisticated centrifuges that enrich uranium, which can be weapons-grade, and highly enriched uranium contamination found in Iran.

The United States charges that Iran has a clandestine nuclear weapons program and wants the IAEA to bring Tehran before the UN Security Council for possible sanctions.

But ElBaradei says that while Iran hid sensitive nuclear activity for almost two decades, "the jury is still out" on whether Tehran is trying to develop atomic weapons.

ElBaradei said Iran has told the IAEA about a letter offering weapons technology it received in 1987 from a black market ring run by Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of Pakistan's nuclear bomb.

ElBaradei said "the offer was extensive" but Iran said "they did not obviously take these people up on the entirety of this offer but that is the kind of information we need."

A nuclear expert, who asked not to be named, said the letter covered both how to manufacture centrifuges that are used in enriching uranium and how to convert a uranium gas, uranium hexafluoride, into uranium metal, which is used as the explosive core of atomic bombs.

The expert said the Iranians may have turned down buying from the Khan network but then have used the letter as a "shopping list" to get parts for a weapons network on their own.

ElBaradei said the IAEA was also continuing to verify "Iran's voluntary suspension" of nuclear fuel cycle activities as Tehran attempts to trade this in for economic and security benefits in negotiations with the European Union.

The European Union backed Russia Monday after Moscow struck a landmark deal to help Iran power up the Islamic state's first nuclear reactor, despite US protests that this is part of the cover for weapons development.

Iran is determined to resume uranium enrichment activities in order to produce nuclear fuel for 20 reactors it plans to build, Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi said Tuesday in Tehran.

But the EU has been trying to persuade Tehran to permanently abandon its capacity to produce enriched uranium, which can be directed to both civil and military uses.

Meanwhile, US officials said President George W. Bush returned from his European trip last week with proposals from US allies for bringing Washington into the negotiation process, as US backing is essential if Iran is to be offered membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO), for example.

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