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Confusion shrouds IAEA meet in Vienna

Director General ElBaradei said that he expected no resolution on Iran to be referred to the Security Council.

india Updated: Mar 07, 2006 15:01 IST

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is set to discuss Iran's nuclear programme on Tuesday.

But all indicators before the meeting point towards no further developments in a saga increasingly shrouded in confusion.

The IAEA a month ago referred Iran to the UN Security Council after the Islamic nation failed to dispel doubts that its nuclear programme was entirely peaceful and restarted uranium enrichment after a period of voluntary suspension.

Iran in response immediately stopped all voluntary cooperation with the agency under the Additional Protocol to the Non-Proliferation Treaty and stepped up research and development work on its technology to enrich uranium.

Enriched uranium can be used for both civil and military applications.

After the referral, the Security Council agreed to defer any action until IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei delivered his report at Tuesday's meeting.

However, ElBaradei said on Monday that he expected no resolution to be delivered to the council.

Senior officials close to the IAEA said that, in the case of no resolution, a summary of the debate would be submitted to the Security Council along with the director-general's report.

One official said that he expected the council to simply consider the report, ask Iran to comply with inspections and leave the case in the hands of the IAEA.

ElBaradei, however, displayed a positive attitude on Monday as he called for a return to the negotiating table, saying that he believed a deal could be cut "within the week".

The key point would seem to be the issue of research and development on uranium enrichment.

Iran wants to conduct its own enrichment programme, which it says is for civil applications, but the West is nervous that it could be used for military applications.

An IAEA official indicated that Iran was prepared to suspend industrial-scale production of uranium for two years and that some compromise could be reached on small-scale research.

Iran is currently doing development work on 20 centrifuges, which is nowhere near enough to develop a nuclear weapon at anything other than a snail's pace.

Centrifuges are used to separate the uranium isotopes useful for the fission process, and uranium for military use needs to be enriched to a much higher level than that for civil use.

The official said that at least 164 centrifuges would be needed to begin serious work, and that around 1,500 would be needed to produce enough enriched uranium for one bomb per year.

According to the IAEA, Iran has around 1,200 centrifuges in total, but it isn't clear how many of these are useable.

Some kind of solution could allow limited enrichment activities, but the official said that nobody had any idea where "the red line could be drawn".

ElBaradei's report, leaked to the press in advance, said that some small progress had been made in gaining access to previously unavailable information, but failed to clarify the nature of Iran's nuclear programme.

The lack of clarity has led to a barrage of speculation.

Iran and Russia have been in discussions over enriching uranium in Russia, and unconfirmed reports have emerged that Russia could also be prepared to allow Iranian scientists to work on Russian soil.

Iran, however, would be unlikely to accept this solution, as it has repeatedly asserted its right to conduct a peaceful enrichment programme on its own soil.

Other unconfirmed reports emerged that Iran was planning to arm its long-rang Shahab-3 missile with nuclear warheads.

However, the senior official refused to comment on the issue, coined Project 111, when questioned.

"At the moment, all we have is information from many sources that needs to be verified," he said. "We need facts to have a smoking gun."

The meeting to discuss ElBaradei's report was expected to run on into Wednesday.

First Published: Mar 07, 2006 10:59 IST