VIENNA (Reuters) - The U.N. atomic watchdog may soon spell out in more detail its concerns about possible military aspects to Iran’s disputed nuclear programme, Western diplomatic sources say.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is considering including an annex on the issue in its next regular report on Iran’s atomic activities due this month, ahead of a meeting in early March of its 35-nation governing board, one source said.
Such a move would signal the U.N. body’s growing frustration at what it sees as lack of Iranian cooperation with its probe into the country’s nuclear work, which the United States and its allies fear is aimed at developing atomic weapons capabilities.
It could also give Western states additional arguments for trying to tighten their sanctions pressure on Tehran after talks in December and January between six world powers and Iran failed to make any progress in the long-running nuclear row.
Iran says its nuclear programme is a peaceful bid to build a network of atomic power plants and it has repeatedly refused U.N. demands to halt uranium enrichment, which can have both civilian and military purposes.
For several years, the IAEA has been investigating Western intelligence reports indicating Iran has coordinated efforts to process uranium, test explosives at high altitude and revamp a ballistic missile cone in a way suitable for a nuclear warhead.
IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano, who has taken a blunter approach on Iran than his predecessor Mohamed ElBaradei, said in his first report on the issue a year ago that he feared Iran may be currently working to develop a nuclear-armed missile.
The assessment further strained relations with Iran, which said such accusations were baseless.
But in a sign of his determination to keep pursuing the issue, one diplomatic source said Amano had asked the IAEA department responsible for inspections in Iran and elsewhere “to look a bit more into the possible military dimension aspect.”
He said: “I believe Amano has asked the safeguards department to look on the possible military dimensions issue and perhaps become a bit more clear on that in the following reports on Iran.”
Another source said he expected the IAEA’s next report to have a renewed focus on this issue, adding he believed there was an effort to “thoroughly describe the concerns” the agency has.
There was no immediate comment from the IAEA, which issues quarterly reports on Iran to the agency’s board, grouping the United States and European countries as well as developing and non-aligned states.
Iran, one of the world’s largest oil producers, says its nuclear programme is meant only to yield electricity or radio-isotopes for agriculture or medicine.
The IAEA says Iran has refused to address the agency’s concerns since mid-2008 and that Tehran’s non-cooperation means the U.N. body cannot confirm that all nuclear material in the country is in peaceful activities.
It said in its last report in December it was essential that Iran gave it access to relevant sites, equipment, documentation and persons “without further delay.”
Amano told Reuters earlier this month that the IAEA had never said Iran had a nuclear weapons programme.
“But we have expressed our concern over some activities that might have a military dimension ... Unfortunately, since 2008 our Iranians partners have not agreed with us to clarify this issue,” he said.
U.S. intelligence agencies believe Iranian leaders have resumed closed-door debates over the last four years about whether to build a nuclear bomb, U.S. officials said this week.
But a recent update to a controversial 2007 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear ambitions also says its leaders have not decided about going ahead with an atomic weapon, said the officials familiar with the latest assessment.
U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said: “Iran is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons in part by developing various nuclear capabilities that better position it to produce such weapons, should it choose to do so.”
Editing by Alison Williams