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Diplomats say US again shares information on Iran's nuclear program

Posted: 02/21/08 at 9:18 pm EST

VIENNA, Austria (AP) -- For the second time in recent weeks, Washington has given the U.N. nuclear watchdog information on what it says were Tehran's attempts to make atomic weapons, but much of it is of doubtful value, diplomats said Thursday.

The diplomats also told The Associated Press that, after handing over a large file last week to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.S. agreed to let the Iranians look at some of the material so they could respond, but Tehran has shown no interest.

IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei is due to issue a report Friday outlining the state of his investigation into Iran's nuclear past, including experiments, materials and documents that could be linked to a weapons program.

The investigation has dragged on for months past its original closing date, and the diplomats -- who spoke on condition of anonymity because their information was confidential -- said Tehran was hoping it would clear the Islamic Republic of any suggestion that it harbored plans to make nuclear arms.

But ElBaradei will not declare Iran free of such suspicions, said the diplomats, who are connected to the Vienna-based agency.

Instead, the confidential report, to be released only to the 35-nation IAEA board and the U.N. Security Council, will at least indirectly conclude that doubt remains over Iran's ultimate nuclear goals, they said.

Among other things, the report will touch on Iran's continued refusal to clear up suspicions that its military was involved in nuclear research despite its claims that all atomic work was under civilian control, one of the diplomats said.

The diplomat said Iran had refused agency requests to interview an official connected with Iran's military nuclear program he identified only by his last name, Faridzadeh.

The report also would confirm that Tehran has expanded uranium enrichment by experimenting with a new generation of equipment, instead of heeding U.N. Security Council demands that it freeze the program, which can be used both for making reactor fuel and the fissile payload of nuclear warheads, the diplomats said.

A senior U.S. official, who also demanded anonymity, said the report might document some progress on clearing up Iran's nuclear past -- giving additional leverage to Russia and China, who are opposed to harsh action against Tehran. Still, he said any finding that Iran continued enrichment would doom it to a "third (U.N.) sanctions resolution shortly," he told the AP.

The U.S. is leading the push for new U.N. sanctions, but a recent U.S. intelligence assessment that Iran had stopped working on a clandestine weapons program four years ago has hurt Washington's attempts to have the U.N. Security Council impose additional penalties.

The newest U.S. nuclear information, including some intelligence declassified for sharing with the agency, was handed over to IAEA Deputy Director Oli Heinonen last Friday, just a few weeks after a first batch of material was forwarded by the Americans, the diplomats said.

But much of the information shed little new light on what the Americans say were Iranian attempts to develop nuclear weapons. "It's not the amount but the quality that counts," said one of the diplomats who was dismissive of the new U.S. file.

Another diplomat said senior agency officials also dismissed the information as relatively insignificant and coming too late.

For its part, Iran did not respond to an invitation from Heinonen to look at information the Americans had approved for sharing with Tehran, despite earlier pledges to do so.

An IAEA board meeting on March 3 will evaluate ElBaradei's efforts to investigate Tehran's nuclear past -- including alleged attempts to make weapons.

Iran has steadfastly refused to suspend uranium enrichment, which it started developing during nearly two decades of covert nuclear activity built on illicit purchases and revealed only five years ago.

IAEA experts have since uncovered activities, experiments, blueprints and materials that point to possible efforts to create nuclear weapons. Tehran insists its nuclear project is for the peaceful purpose of generating electricity.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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