Iran Offers Data on Secret Uranium Project

Associated Press
Date: 02-23-06

By GEORGE JAHN, Associated Press Writer

Thu Feb 23, 5:14 PM ET

NASSFELD, Austria - Iran has offered the U.N. nuclear watchdog information on a secret project that U.S. intelligence has linked to high explosives and warhead design, both parts of a possible nuclear arms program, two diplomats said Thursday.

One of the diplomats told The Associated Press that a team of International Atomic Energy Agency experts was heading to Tehran this weekend to follow up on the offer to discuss the secret uranium processing project known as "Green Salt."

The diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to publicly discuss the matter. They said it was unclear if the information being offered by the Iranians would shed more light on suspicious aspects of Iran's nuclear program. But Tehran's overture appeared to be an attempt to blunt the threat of firm U.N. Security Council action in coming weeks.

The council has the authority to impose sanctions on Iran.

Iran has denied seeking atomic weapons and more than three years of IAEA probing have failed to produce concrete evidence to the contrary. But the agency has discovered suspicious Iranian activity, including plutonium experiments and long-secret efforts to develop uranium enrichment - an activity that can produce nuclear fuel or fissile cores for warheads.

Public mention of the "Green Salt Project" first surfaced in an IAEA report drawn up earlier this month for a meeting of the agency's 35-nation board of governors. The meeting ended with the board reporting Tehran to the Security Council over concerns it could be hiding a nuclear weapons program.

The IAEA report voiced concern that under the "Green Salt Project," conversion of uranium - a precursor to enrichment - was linked to suspected tests of "high explosives and the design of a missile re-entry vehicle, all of which could have a military nuclear dimension."

Among the links, they said, was the participation of several Iranian officials in uranium conversion, high explosives and warhead design work.

High explosives can be used to detonate an atomic weapon.

Diplomats familiar with the IAEA report said the agency based its concerns on several pages of recently declassified U.S. intelligence.

Iran already has converted tons of uranium using a method that agency officials believe differs from the method believed used in the "Green Salt Program."

Iran's refusal to scrap domestic enrichment has aggravated concerns about its nuclear intentions and contributed to the IAEA board's Feb. 4 decision to report it to the Security Council. The council is taking no action ahead of the next IAEA board meeting, and as negotiations between Iran and Russia continue on a possible compromise solution that would move Tehran's uranium enrichment to Russia. The next IAEA meeting starts in Vienna on March 6.

Moving Iran's enrichment to Russian soil would be meant to assuage international fears that the theocracy could divert uranium for atomic weapons.

In Indonesia Thursday, Iran's foreign minister said that four unspecified issues must be resolved before his country agrees to the proposed Russian solution.

Also Thursday, the head of Russia's atomic energy agency, Sergei Kiriyenko, arrived in Tehran for talks with Iranian officials on the proposal, seen as the last chance for averting an escalation of the nuclear standoff.

China also was sending an envoy to Tehran in a last-ditch effort to broker a deal.

"We are ready to compromise," Iran's Foreign Minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, told reporters during a brief visit to Indonesia as part of an Asian tour.

Mottaki said that four issues remain unresolved in the Russian negotiations, among them which countries and companies would be involved. But "if you ask me, the main element is timing and place or places," he said.

He did not elaborate, but the reference to "place or places" appeared to allude to Iran's insistence that it be allowed to do some enrichment domestically, even if part of the prgram is moved to Russia.


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