VIENNA, Austria – Iran has agreed to crack open the books on its uranium enrichment activities, the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency said Thursday – a move that could give experts a better grasp of a program the Security Council fears could be misused to produce atomic bombs.
The concession appeared timed in hopes of heading off a rejection by the International Atomic Energy Agency of Iran’s request for technical help in building its Arak plutonium-producing reactor. Unmoved, the IAEA’s 35-nation board denied the aid for at least two years.
Tehran’s decision to provide access to the operating records of its pilot uranium enrichment plant at Natanz came with another carrot – a pledge to allow U.N. inspectors to take more samples from a facility that had yielded suspicious traces of enriched uranium.
Both moves were described as “important steps” by IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei, who announced Tehran’s offer.
Uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing can both produce material for atomic warheads, and Iran’s lack of complete candor about its programs has fed suspicions in Washington and other capitals that Tehran is trying to make nuclear weapons in violation of its treaty obligations.
Iran insists its only goal is to use enrichment to produce fuel for nuclear reactors that generate electricity and plutonium reprocessing to make nuclear isotopes for medical treatments.
Responding to Iran’s defiance of demands that it curb its nuclear program until suspicions are allayed, the IAEA board decided to put off a ruling on the request for technical help on the Arak reactor. That denied IAEA help for at least two years, after which Tehran can submit a new request.
The board voted to approve all requests for IAEA technical aid “with the exception of” Arak, wording that allowed both the United States and Iran to claim victory.
While Iran’s pilot uranium enrichment plant at Natanz is under some IAEA monitoring, Iran’s offer to open the operating records of the facility could potentially yield key information to U.N. inspectors that has up to now been off limits.
“It should tell them how well the centrifuges have operated” in enriching uranium, said former U.N. inspector David Albright, whose Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security tracks Iran’s nuclear activities.