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. Disagreements could delay Iran nuclear report: diplomats
VIENNA, Feb 11 (AFP) Feb 11, 2008
The UN's latest widely-awaited report on Iran's nuclear programme could be delayed by disagreements between atomic watchdog chief Mohammed ElBaradei and his technical staff, diplomats said Monday.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has not announced a publication date, but diplomats close to the Vienna-based watchdog expected it to come out around February 20.

The release could now be put off by a few days because of differences between ElBaradei and his technical staff over the report's findings, one Western diplomat told AFP on condition of anonymity.

"Originally, we were expecting it to come on February 20," the diplomat said.

However, "there were disagreements between ElBaradei and his technical staff. ElBaradei is pushing for one thing, while the people who went on a technical visit to Iran during January disagree. It should now be published maybe one week later, so in the last week of February."

Another diplomat, who similarly insisted on not being identified in view of the confidentiality of the information, suggested the same thing.

"I've heard that some of his technical staff are not happy," said the diplomat, who has knowledge of the IAEA's workings.

"There's a concern that most of the big issues are going to be declared as resolved when there's still a feeling that they're anything but."

ElBaradei had hoped to wrap up consultations with the technical team -- on which he bases his report -- by the end of this week, but that deadline appears to have been extended into next week, the diplomat said.

The report, which will then be put to the IAEA's board of governors at a meeting from March 3-7, is crucial to UN Security Council deliberations over whether to impose further sanctions on Iran.

While Western powers such as the United States are keen for tougher sanctions, non-allied countries such as South Africa have said they want to wait for ElBaradei's report first.

ElBaradei's previous report in November found that Iran had made important progress in answering some of the key questions surrounding its controversial nuclear drive.

Under a so-called "work plan" drawn up by ElBaradei and Tehran, Iran initially had until the end of last year to resolve all outstanding issues.

These included Iran's past experiments with plutonium; its use of uranium-enriching P1 and P2 centrifuges; questions about particles of arms-grade enriched uranium found by IAEA inspectors at Tehran's Technical University; and most importantly, the possible military use of Iran's nuclear technology.

That deadline passed. But then, following a trip to Tehran in mid-January, ElBaradei gave Iran another four weeks.

The repeated extension to the deadline has led many Western countries to accuse Tehran of deliberately stringing the process out.

Some observers have argued that in his pursuit of a diplomatic solution, ElBaradei is not being tough enough, thereby playing into Iran's hands.

Western diplomats fear that even if all the questions about Iran's past nuclear activities are cleared up, the IAEA's knowledge of what it is currently doing is diminishing -- a point acknowledged by ElBaradei himself.

In light of that, the key, for the West, is that Iran should heed UN demands and suspend uranium enrichment, a process which is used to make nuclear fuel, but also the fissile material for an atomic bomb.

Tehran steadfastly refuses to do so and has defied two rounds of UN sanctions and the threat of a possible third.

In Tehran on Monday, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad again insisted that Iran had an inalienable right to nuclear energy and would "not back down an inch" in the international nuclear standoff.

The Iranian leader once again declared that the Iranian nuclear dossier was "closed."

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