Middle East: nuclear weapons or generating electricity

The US said yesterday it was troubled by new disclosures indicating Iran conducted experiments to create plutonium as late as 1998, five years after it claimed it had abandoned such work. But it said the discoveries would not alter its full support for European efforts to negotiate an end to Iranian efforts to produce nuclear materials.

The disclosures about the small-scale plutonium reprocessing experiments conducted in 1995 and 1998 were contained in a report by Pierre Goldschmidt, deputy director-general of the &to=http:// english.pravda.ru/world/2003/01/16/42111.html ' target=_blank>International Atomic Energy Agency, delivered to the agency's board in Vienna yesterday.

The agency concluded from plutonium samples brought back from Iran in 2003 that the country had conducted these later experiments and Iran admitted to them in a letter to the agency last month.

Mr Goldschmidt's report also said he was seeking shipping documentation to resolve discrepancies in Iranian statements about when components for enriching uranium arrived in the country in the 1990s. There are signs some parts arrived earlier than Tehran had previously indicated.

He also sought more information about the initial contacts by Iranian officials with Abdul-Qadeer Khan, a Pakistani scientist whose network provided substantial help to Iran's efforts to enrich uranium. So far Iran has produced only a single page report of a supposed first meeting in 1987.

The US, which accuses Iran of pursuing a clandestine programme to produce nuclear weapons, said that Iran's misreporting about its nuclear programme was too pervasive to be inadvertent. Iran, which asserts its nuclear ambitions are peaceful, denied that the misreporting was significant, reports the Financial Times.

Tehran maintains its nuclear program is for &to=http:// english.pravda.ru/economics/2001/07/26/11094.html ' target=_blank>generating electricity.

The IAEA approved the deal with Saudi Arabia despite serious misgivings about such arrangements in this era of heightened proliferation fears.

IAEA officials say there is no reason to doubt the Saudis when they say they have no plans to develop nuclear arms and no facilities or nuclear stocks that warrant inspection.

The Saudis qualified for a ``small quantities protocol'' - an agreement that already applies to 75 other nations, including Vatican City and Trinidad and Tobago, and that puts the onus solely on the nation to report its status to the IAEA.

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