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. Iran says had little time to respond to nuclear weapons allegations
VIENNA, Feb 25 (AFP) Feb 25, 2008
Even as Iran warned of reprisals over any new UN sanctions, Tehran complained it had not been given sufficient time to respond to new intelligence purportedly showing it was involved in nuclear weapons work.

Furthermore, the information was "fabricated" and the allegations "baseless", Iran insisted.

"February 15th was too late. It was impossible," Iran's ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, told AFP in an interview on Sunday.

"They should have shown it to us before, two or three years ago when they were talking about the alleged studies," Soltanieh said.

In a report Friday, the IAEA complained that Tehran had failed to respond to new information connected with its alleged involvement in weaponisation studies.

The studies covered a so-called green salt project, where uranium dioxide is converted into uranium tetrafluoride (an intermediate product for manufacturing uranium hexafluoride, the material used to make both nuclear fuel and fissile bomb material); high explosives testing; and the design of a missile re-entry vehicle.

The information was allegedly found on a laptop computer smuggled out of Tehran.

The IAEA explained that it had only received authorisation "from other member states" to show the material to Iran on February 15th, just days before the watchdog was scheduled to complete and publish its new report.

That gave Iran no time to respond, Soltanieh said.

"Not only was there not enough time. But it also runs 100-percent contrary to the work plan," the ambassador said, referring to a timetable drawn up by the IAEA and Tehran last autumn to resolve all outstanding issues on Iran's nuclear dossier.

Soltanieh insisted that the alleged studies were separate from the other outstanding issues, since there was no direct nuclear connection, and were therefore expressly not included in the work plan.

"We're talking about missiles and explosives, which are not related at all with nuclear activities or programmes," he said.

Furthermore, the documentation which Iran had been shown -- primarily US intelligence -- consisted merely of "unauthenticated copies", the ambassador added.

The US envoy to the IAEA, Gregory Schulte, when contacted by AFP, refused to respond directly to Soltanieh's charges.

"The IAEA raised concerns about these activities a couple of years ago and Iran has chosen not to address them," he said.

Tehran should not wait to be asked for information, but should "come clean" on all aspects of its nuclear programme if it wanted to regain the confidence of the international community, Schulte said.

"Iran owes the IAEA answers."

In its report, the UN atomic watchdog said that while most of the other outstanding issues had been cleared up, the crucial matter of the alleged studies remained unresolved.

"This is a matter of serious concern and critical to an assessment of a possible military dimension to Iran's nuclear programme," it said.

Soltanieh insisted that the IAEA's report gave Iran a "clean bill of health on the exclusively peaceful nature of (our) nuclear programme and activities."

All the outstanding issues had been "resolved" and "concluded," he said.

Nevertheless, the IAEA was not so sure.

While most of the issues were "no longer outstanding at this stage", it still had to verify the completeness of Iran's declarations, it said, concluding that, particularly in light of the unresolved alleged studies issue, it was "not yet in a position to determine the full nature of Iran's nuclear programme".

The agency also complained that Iran was continuing to defy UN demands to halt uranium enrichment and had actually started developing faster and more efficient centrifuges to produce enriched uranium, which can be used to make the fissile material for a bomb.

Soltanieh acknowledged that Iran was having problems in getting its first-generation P1 centrifuges to run smoothly.

There are around 3,000 such centrifuges in operation at Iran's nuclear facility in Natanz.

In the report, IAEA inspectors found that "the throughput of the (enrichment) facility has been well below its declared design capacity."

But Soltanieh said it was "natural in this kind of industry that there are ups and downs once in a while," especially given that Iran was receiving no help from outside.

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