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UN Nuke Agency To Clear Iran On Uranium Charge, Diplomats Say

Iranian students form a human chain around the uranium conversion facility, outside Isfahan, in a show of support for Iran's decision to reopen the plant 16 August 2005. Iran's new nuclear policy chief, the hardliner Ali Larijani, said Tehran will press on with ultra-sensitive fuel cyle work while continuing talks with the European Union, in comments published today. AFP Photo/Atta Kenare.

Vienna (AFP) Aug 19, 2005
The UN nuclear agency has concluded that highly enriched uranium particles found in Iran were from imported equipment and not from Iran's own activities, diplomats said Friday.

The presence of the particles was a possible sign that Iran was working on enrichment techniques that could have produced weapons-grade fissile material.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has since February 2003 been investigating Iran on US charges that the Islamic Republic, which says its nuclear program is a peaceful effort to generate electricity, is secretely developing atomic weapons.

The latest finding "will be seen by those in favor of Iran as another checkmark in their column" to back up Tehran's rebuttals of the US charges, a diplomat close to the IAEA said.

The finding is to be included in an IAEA report September 3 on Iran's compliance with international nuclear safeguards.

The IAEA declined to comment.

At stake is whether the EU is to resume talks with Iran on getting guarantees that the Islamic Republic is not trying to make nuclear weapons. Failing this, the EU could ask the IAEA to bring Iran before the UN Security Council for possible sanctions.

The IAEA has for several months been carrying out sampling of uranium traces on centrifuge parts that Pakistan had shipped to the agency to comparethem with particles found on centrifuge parts Iran had acquired from the black market, allegedly from Pakistan.

"The conclusion shows the highly enriched uranium appears to emanate from Pakistan," the diplomat said.

But the diplomat said the results of tests on cases of low enriched uranium (LEU) contamination, which is below weapons-grade and are also being examined by the IAEA, were "murky" and that the "LEU issue will probably never be solved."

Another diplomat said the inability to resolve the LEU question meant that the investigation's results "don't prove Iran's story is true. They prove it is plausible."

IAEA chief Mohamed ElBarradei said on August 11 that while "all declared (nuclear) material in Iran is under verifiction . . . we still are not in a position to say that there is no undeclared materials or activities in Iran."

"The jury is still out," ElBaradei said, speaking after an emergency meeting of the IAEA's 35-nation board of governors, which called on Iran to suspend all fuel-cycle work and ordered the September 3 report.

Enriched uranium, refined by passing a uranium gas through a series, or cascade, of centrifuge machines, can be fuel for civilian nuclear power reactors or, in highly enriched form, be the raw material for atom bombs.

Independent laboratory sampling and examination of the contamination data by independent experts are now being carried out to confirm the IAEA results, in what the first diplomat described as "the final step of quality control."

The experts are expected in Vienna "at the end of the month," the diplomat said.

The question of HEU and LEU contamination found by IAEA inspectors at several sites in Iran is one of the two main remaining topics in the agency's investigation.

Little progress is expected to be reported in resolving the other main issue, that of Iran's work with advanced P-2 centrifuges that make the enrichment process easier.

The IAEA has expressed skepticism about Iran's claims to have done little work with the P-2's, since Tehran has had blueprints for them "from foreign sources" since 1995, according to an IAEA report last November.

The diplomat said the September 3 report will also say the agency has found little suspicious in Iran's work with plutonium.

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