US: Iranian Atomic Work Nears Bomb Capability


iran-ieae-ahmadinejadIran’s nuclear work is approaching a “dangerous and destabilizing” point at which the Persian Gulf country could build a bomb, the U.S. envoy to the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency has said.

“Iran is now either very near or in possession already of sufficient low-enriched uranium to produce one nuclear weapon, if the decision were made to further enrich it to weapons grade,” Ambassador Glyn Davies said today in a statement prepared for the IAEA’s 35-member board of governors, which is meeting for a third day in Vienna.

This “moves Iran closer to a dangerous and destabilizing possible breakout capacity,” Davies added, in some of the strongest comments yet used by a U.S. official about the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program. He repeated President Barack Obama’s overtures to Iran for direct negotiations and said the administration in Washington is committed to a negotiated resolution to the international dispute over Iran’s work.

Iran, holder of the world’s No. 2 oil and natural gas reserves, is under three sets of UN Security Council sanctions for refusing to halt uranium enrichment, a process to isolate an isotope needed to generate fuel for a nuclear power reactor or, in higher concentrations, to make a weapon. The government in Tehran says it wants to generate power and rejects Western allegations that it seeks to build an atomic bomb.

‘Weapons Option’

“We have serious concerns that Iran is deliberately attempting, at a minimum, to preserve a nuclear weapons option,” said Davies, in his first IAEA meeting since being appointed by Obama.

IAEA inspectors reported last month that Iran “has not suspended its enrichment-related activities or its work on heavy-water-related projects as required by the Security Council.” The agency said it can’t exclude the possibility that there is a military purpose to Iran’s nuclear program.

“Against the background of the evidence available it is inexcusable that Iran continues to refuse any degree of transparency or cooperation in clarifying these outstanding issues,” France, Germany and the U.K. said in a joint statement today in Vienna.

Iran today presented proposals for a new round of talks to the representatives of the five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany, which have been leading discussions with Iran over the nuclear work, state-run Press TV reported.

Iran’s IAEA ambassador, Aliasghar Soltanieh, said at a Vienna press briefing earlier that the proposals include compromises on security, economic and nuclear issues.

Intelligence Estimate

U.S. experts concluded in a National Intelligence Estimate in December 2007 that Iran probably couldn’t produce a bomb until 2010.

Former President George W. Bush branded Iran, North Korea and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq as an “axis of evil” in his 2002 state of the union speech. Iran has been under UN investigation since 2003, after it was discovered that the country hid work on its Natanz uranium-enrichment facility from the IAEA.

“These allegations were the Bush administration’s allegations,” Soltanieh said. “The international community is curious and enthusiastic and carefully monitoring the attitudes and conduct of the new U.S. administration.”

London’s Verification Research, Training and Information Center calculates that 630 kilograms (1,389 pounds) of low- enriched uranium could yield 15 to 22 kilograms of weapons-grade uranium, enough for the production of a device under the supervision of an expert bomb-maker. The IAEA says Iran has more than 1,500 kilograms of low-enriched uranium.

{Bloomberg/Noam mNewscenter}