United Nations, 14 May 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said today that Iran possesses the knowledge to produce weapons-grade uranium but it's not clear whether it has done so.
IAEA Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei told the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations today that Iran has been providing proper access to inspectors. But he said that much technical analysis remains to determine the scale of the country's nuclear program.
"We don't have proof so far that they have done any weaponization nor have we seen that they have enriched uranium to the military level, [but] if you ask me whether they have the know how to develop the highly enriched uranium, the answer is yes," el-Baradei said.
Iran has pledged to give a full account of its nuclear activities before a meeting next month of the IAEA board of governors in Vienna. In October, Iran gave the IAEA what it said was a full declaration of its nuclear program. But it failed to list some key research projects such as highly specialized "P2" centrifuges that can make arms-grade uranium.
The IAEA reported the omissions in March, prompting a warning from its board of governors. U.S. officials have said that if Iran continues to fail to comply, the matter should be referred to the UN Security Council as a threat to international peace and security.
El-Baradei told the Council on Foreign Relations, an independent policy institute, that the current approach of steady pressure on Iran was appropriate. "Verification backed by diplomacy continues to be the best option, frankly, and if you are moving forward, if you do not see imminent threats, I think we should stay the course," he said. "It sometimes takes time, people get impatient but this still is the best option because there is no better alternative."
Overall, the IAEA chief also said the current system for dealing with nuclear nonproliferation was inadequate and that the UN Security Council must revise its role.
There are currently 100 facilities in 40 countries that still use highly enriched uranium, according to el-Baradei. He said the agency is in discussion with Washington about a global cleanup program for this material. He recommended a moratorium or ban on the right of every country to develop plutonium and highly enriched uranium. "We act like a fire brigade, we act to try to put the fire off in Iraq, in North Korea, but that's not the solution," he said. "The solution is building a new system of collective security that is not based on reliance on nuclear weapons. That's a lot. It's a tall order but we really need to start."
El-Baradei also called for a better response system in cases in which countries withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). He suggested establishing a system of sanctions that countries are aware of so they can consider the cost of withdrawing from the NPT. This, he said, would be an improvement on the limited response to North Korea's withdrawal last year.
"What I worry about North Korea [is] that it also sends the worst signal to the would-be proliferators. That if you want to protect yourself, [you] accelerate your program because then you are immune in a way, then people will sit around the table with you and if you do not do that fast enough you might be subject to preemption," el-Baradei said.
He said North Korea was the world's top security concern. The regime, he said, used loopholes in a 1994 agreement and the export-control system that is aimed at banning trade in nuclear materials to start a nuclear weapons program. It also developed a second track of highly-enriched-uranium production which the IAEA knows little about.
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