US officials believe Iran now has the "technical ability" to make highly enriched uranium, an essential step towards building a nuclear bomb, according to a leaked US diplomatic cable.
At a meeting of international nuclear experts in Vienna, a US representative said that "Iran had now demonstrated centrifuge operations such that it had the technical ability to produce highly enriched uranium (HEU) if it so chose". The meeting in April 2009 was hosted by Britain's ambassador to Austria, Simon Smith.
The revelation comes as nuclear talks resume between Iranian officials and representatives of six world powers in Istanbul tomorrow. Expectations of compromise are low.
Not all western governments share the US conclusion, but if true it suggests international sanctions have failed to deny Iran the know-how required to make a nuclear bomb. The production of HEU is generally agreed to be the most serious obstacle any aspiring nuclear state must overcome.
Efforts to persuade Iran to curb its programme have also failed to produce results. In the days running up to the two-day meeting in Istanbul, Iranian officials have repeated they will not bow to UN security council demands to suspend uranium enrichment. Iran insists its programme is entirely peaceful.
Western strategy is increasingly focused on delaying Iranian progress, buying time in the hope that economic pressure will eventually lead to a change of mind in Tehran. The campaign has had some recent success in the form of covert sabotage — the Stuxnet computer worm, reportedly a US-Israeli project, slowed down Iran's uranium enrichment last year. Other efforts have involved finding bottlenecks in the Iranian programme and trying to tighten them.
Leaked cables reveal
* Russia has vowed never to allow Iran to make its own fuel for a Russian-built nuclear power station at Bushehr.
* British officials have predicted Iran will amass 20 tonnes of low enriched uranium by 2014 – enough, if further enriched, to make 19 warheads.
* In 2008, Washington launched a worldwide campaign to cut off Iran's supplies of a high-strength steel, known as maraging steel, and carbon fibre. Access to these materials has been identified as a bottleneck in its enrichment programme. gns,
Countries will be less candid now: US
Slamming WikiLeaks for compromising its ability to have confidential communication with other countries, the US has said several nations have told it that they will perhaps now be less candid in sharing information with it in the wake of the expose by whistle- bower website. “These countries have conveyed their concerns to Obama that the confidential
information and perspective shared by them with the US have now found their way into the public space, which "is a violation of trust," spokesman P J Crowley said. pti, washington