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. US concerned about possible secret Iranian atomic work: ambassador
VIENNA, June 13 (AFP) Jun 13, 2007
Iran's refusal to give early notification of new nuclear facilities raises concerns about possible secret atomic work, the US ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said Wednesday.

Gregory Schulte said in an interview with AFP that Iran was clearly working to master uranium enrichment, the process that makes fuel for civilian nuclear reactors or, at highly refined levels, atom bombs.

In retaliation for UN sanctions, Iran is also refusing to honor a safeguards clause that requires it to provide "early declaration of any decision to construct a new nuclear facility or to modify an existing one," Schulte said.

He said that as Iran masters uranium enrichment, "they can do one of two things.

"They can either develop at other locations a covert capability ... or they can develop a larger-scale capability at (their enrichment facility) at Natanz to enrich uranium to low levels and then kick out the (UN nuclear) inspectors and run it through again and enrich it to high levels" that would be weapons-grade, Schulte said.

He called the first "scenario" a legitimate fear since Iran is refusing to honor the early notification "code 3.1" of the subsidiary agreement to its safeguards accord with the UN watchdog IAEA.

Iran however denies US charges that it seeks nuclear weapons and says its atomic program is a legitimate effort to generate electricity.

But, said Schulte: "What type of signal is Iran sending to us? Are they trying to tell all of us that they intend to build new nuclear facilities in secret, not tell the agency until the very last moment?"

The only requirement now on Iran is that it notify the IAEA six months before it introduces nuclear material at a site, plants that take years to build.

Schulte said this is a concern "because Iran has a history of developing covert facilities. Iran has a history of undeclared activities and Iran has not only a history but at present is refusing to provide full information on its centrifuge program, including what they are doing in terms of work on advanced centrifuges," the machines that enrich uranium.

Schulte said however that UN sanctions against Iran to get it to suspend uranium enrichment and cooperate fully with the IAEA may be working.

"I think the Iranian leadership is coming under pressure from a number of sources," Schulte said.

"First, they're under a certain amount of pressure politically because they're finding themselves isolated. They're looking to divide the international community but instead they're finding the international community is increasingly united and concerned against their programme.

"Secondly, they're under increasing pressure from the targeted sanctions put in place by the Security Council" as well as by measures taken by "individuals, organisations, financial entities that support their programme," Schulte said.

He said "companies and banks are making decisions about whether or not it makes sense to invest in or conduct business with Iran."

Schulte said Iran's leaders are also coming under increasing domestic pressure as sanctions started to bite.

"They've started to cause influential Iranians to think about 'is the leadership on the right course' and that's what we want to happen," he said.

"We're going to sustain those sanctions while still giving them a way out," Schulte said, referring to negotiations and benefits offered if Iran suspends uranium enrichment.

All rights reserved. 2005 Agence France-Presse. Sections of the information displayed on this page (dispatches, photographs, logos) are protected by intellectual property rights owned by Agence France-Presse. As a consequence, you may not copy, reproduce, modify, transmit, publish, display or in any way commercially exploit any of the content of this section without the prior written consent of Agence France-Presse.

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