The United Nations atomic watchdog issued a report Thursday saying that Iran had been generally truthful about key aspects of its past nuclear activities, but warned that knowledge of Tehran’s program was "diminishing."
The International Atomic Energy Agency said that Iran continued to enrich uranium contrary to the decisions of the UN Security Council, and that Tehran’s cooperation with the agency had been "reactive rather than proactive."
In response, the White House lashed out by saying that Iran’s continued "defiance" of the international community and its failure to halt uranium enrichment justified Washington’s push for a third round of UN sanctions against the country.
"The Iranians only respond to pressure, and when they feel like they’re cornered they’re going to try to make some really sort of surface-level concessions to the international community, give the appearance of trying to cooperate," said US State Department spokesman Mitch McCormack, at a department press briefing Thursday.
McCormack said that Iran had only provided "partial answers" about their past activities. "I don’t think the world is prepared to give Iran partial credit on the test of… whether or not they’re developing nuclear weapons," he said.
Iran maintains that the IAEA report shows that allegations of an Iranian covert nuclear program are baseless, and that new sanctions would amount to an "illegal action," according to the country’s new chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili.
Asked about Iran’s reaction if more UN sanctions were imposed, Jalili said: "It is unlikely… but if it happens it will have an impact on the modality that has taken place (with the IAEA) for cooperation and solving issues."
"If Iran wanted to abandon its rights under sanctions, we could have done it in the past. The Iranian nation will not abandon its right under such a threat," he said, according Reuters.
In October, Jalili replaced Ali Larijani as secretary of Iran’s National Security Council and hence chief nuclear negotiator. Jalili is seen as having closer ideological links to current Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad than the more pragmatic Larijani, who is a political rival to the president.
The 10-page report, made available to IPS, focuses on the history of Iran’s nuclear history, its attempts to revitalize its program during the 1980s, and its decision to acquire uranium enrichment technology on the black market.
While the report’s language appears to give a mixed evaluation of Iran’s transparency on the issues, there was "consistency" between what Tehran revealed and what the IAEA found in its investigation.
And it appears that Iranian officials are attempting to portray the report as a political victory that vindicates Iran in the face of US-led pressure.
"The report has once again proven that Iran has constantly told the truth about the peaceful nature of its nuclear programs," said President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. "All accusations by the West have been neutralized (by the IAEA report) and as far as we are concerned, the dossier should be closed."
But analysts contend that the IAEA report leaves critical questions unanswered and that Iran’s continued ambiguity in particular about its increasingly hidden centrifuge program is "not sufficient" to delay action on a third UN sanctions resolution.
"The stage appears to be set for a continued tug-of-war between the IAEA and Iran, and to an even greater extent between Iran and the United States, France, Britain and Germany," said David Albright and Jacqueline Shire of the Institute for Science and International Security, in a statement.
In a November article for the Arms Control Association, Albright and Shire wrote that with weakened IAEA inspections, "the invisible or black areas of Iran’s gas centrifuge program are growing." Iran could ostensibly remedy the ambiguities by adopting the Additional Protocols of the Non-nuclear Proliferation Treaty and provide assurances of the true scope of its program, which Tehran maintains is purely for civilian energy purposes.
The Additional Protocols, signed in 1993, boost the IAEA’s ability to detect undeclared nuclear activities, including clandestine projects with no connection to the civil fuel cycle. While a signatory to the treaty, Iran has not signed the protocols.
"It will be critical over the coming period not to lose sight of why, on proliferation grounds, Iran should be discouraged as strongly as possible from maintaining an enrichment program," said Albright and Shire.
"Simply put, the history of Iran’s efforts, the current scale of the enrichment program, and Iran’s determination to continue enriching uranium in the face of overwhelming international economic and political opposition, raise serious questions about its intentions."
Another report by European Union chief Javier Solana, expected at the end of November, is seen as crucial to establishing consensus among the five veto-wielding members of the Security Council to ramp up sanctions or return to talks aimed at suspending Iranian enrichment. Russia and China with strong trading ties to Iran hold two votes.
Since June last year, Solana has been trying to convince Iran to resume talks on suspending uranium enrichment in exchange for a package of political and economic incentives.
Last week, Iran said it accelerated enrichment activities by fully running 3,000 centrifuges at its nuclear plant in Natanz. Experts say it would likely take more than 50,000 centrifuges to fuel a reactor.