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Iran refuses to turn over key nuclear document, report says

WASHINGTON—Iran is refusing to turn over to U.N. investigators a copy of a black market document it could use to build nuclear weapons, according to a confidential U.N. report Tuesday.

The document, which Iran received from an international nuclear smuggling ring, describes aspects of fabricating the explosive core of a nuclear bomb. The document is one more piece of evidence supporting concerns that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons program in the guise of peaceful nuclear power research.

China and Russia agreed Tuesday to support reporting Iran to the United Nations Security Council, which has the power to impose sanctions. The agreement came after talks in London attended by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

The U.N. report will be provided to the board of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog agency, who meet Thursday on whether to report Iran to the Security Council. The report was obtained by several news organizations, including Knight Ridder.

The report said that Iranian experts had begun preparations for test-scale uranium enrichment, the process that produces low enriched uranium for power plants and highly enriched uranium for warheads.

Iran remained defiant, showing no signs of accepting demands by the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany to re-freeze uranium enrichment work and meet IAEA demands to reveal all aspects of its nuclear program.

Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, was quoted on a government-run English language Internet site as warning that a referral to the Security Council would mean "the end of diplomacy."

Iran, the world's fourth largest oil exporter, has said that retaliatory steps could include expelling IAEA inspectors and measures that could drive up world petroleum prices.

Iran insists its program is for peaceful purposes, but admitted in 2002 to concealing the project from IAEA monitoring for 18 years. U.S. and European officials believe the Iranian military is secretly developing nuclear arms under cover of the civilian effort.

The new report was an update on Iran's compliance with the IAEA investigation of its nuclear program. That program is based in part on purchases of know-how and technologies from a Pakistani-led black market network.

One key issue involves a document bought from the network that Iran showed agency experts last year. The document is about requirements for casting and machining depleted and enriched uranium metal into hemispheres.

Hemispheres form the explosive cores of nuclear weapons. They have no application in civilian power plants.

The report said the 15-page document described "procedures ... related to the fabrication of nuclear weapons components." It said the document did not include "dimensions or other specifications for machined pieces for such components."

Iranian officials refused to provide IAEA experts who visited Iran last month with a copy of the document, but did allow them to re-examine it and place an agency seal on it. The Iranians said the nuclear black market network offered the document, and that the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran had not asked for it.

The same smuggling network that supplied Iran sold Libya components and blueprints for the nuclear weapons program that it revealed to the IAEA in 2003 after deciding to scrap it.

On other issues, the IAEA report said that there has been "substantial renovation" of a system that would supply uranium hexafluoride gas—the feedstock for enrichment—to a pilot enrichment plant at the key research center at Natanz in central Iran. Components that would be used in the pilot plant were being tested, it said.

But the report made clear that as of Monday, Iranian experts had not yet begun the small-scale uranium enrichment they told the IAEA they planned to undertake for research purposes when they ended the more than two-year freeze on such work on Jan. 10.

Under the agreement reached in London early Tuesday, Iran would be reported to the Security Council for ending the freeze and violating its obligations to disclose all aspects of its nuclear program to the IAEA under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the key international safeguard against the spread of nuclear weapons.

But the council would take no action until March 6, when IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei presents the board of governors with his latest report on Iranian compliance with his agency's investigation.

Returning from London, Rice conceded that the unified stand forged with the Europeans, China and Russia could dissolve once the Security Council begins considering what steps to take.

"I don't underestimate the difficulty of maintaining consensus as we move through this process," she said. "I think there will continue to be tactical differences about timing and there may even be tactical differences about precisely what is to be required (of Iran), but that is the hard work of diplomacy."

But, she asserted, there is a "strategic consensus" that Iran must re-freeze its enrichment work, cooperate with the IAEA and accept a settlement that denies it any kind of enrichment capabilities.


(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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