x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

UN: Iran's nuclear work is specific to arms

Atomic agency finds Iran's nuclear programme could have a weapons element as Russian leader warns Israel against military strikes on Tehran.

VIENNA // The UN atomic agency has "serious concerns" about Iran's nuclear activities and has "credible" information Tehran may have worked on developing nuclear weapons.

"The agency has serious concerns regarding possible military dimensions to Iran's nuclear programme," said the keenly awaited International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report, which was seen by Agence France-Presse and the Associated Press.

"After assessing carefully and critically the extensive information available to it, the agency finds the information to be, overall, credible. This information indicates that Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device.

"The information also indicates that before the end of 2003, these activities took place under a structured programme and that some activities may still be continuing.

"Given the concerns identified above, Iran is requested to engage substantively with the agency without delay for the purpose of providing clarifications." The Vienna-based agency said some of its more than 1,000 pages of information indicated Iran has done work "on the development of an indigenous design of a nuclear weapon including the testing of components".

Previous IAEA assessments have centred on Iran's efforts to produce fissile material - uranium and plutonium - which could be put to peaceful uses such as power generation, or be used to make a nuclear bomb. But the update focuses on Iran's alleged efforts towards developing missiles.

It comes amid rising speculation that Israel might launch a military strike in an attempt to knock out its foe's nuclear facilities.

Iran said yesterday the West had no serious proof it was developing nuclear weapons.

Also yesterday, in Berlin, Russia's president, Dmitry Medvedev, warned that Israel was courting "a catastrophe" with its "extremely dangerous rhetoric" threatening a military strike against Iran over its nuclear programme.

At the same time, Israel's defence minister, Ehud Barak, repeated that all options remained on the table to prevent Iran acquiring a nuclear weapons capacity and rejected suggestions Israel would be devastated by any counter-attack.

"During my last contact with Iranian officials, including the president, I received the assurance that they were preparing proof", showing they were not producing nuclear weapons and were ready to cooperate, Mr Medvedev said.

But in Jerusalem, Mr Barak said he did not expect the UN report to persuade Russia and China to impose what he called "lethal" sanctions on Iran to pressure Tehran to dismantle its nuclear installations.

"As long as no such sanctions have been imposed and proven effective, we continue to recommend to our friends in the world and to ourselves, not to take any option off the table," Mr Barak told Israel Radio.

The phrase "all options on the table" has been used by Israeli politicians to mean a military assault.

The UN has imposed four rounds of sanctions on Tehran but none has succeeded in curbing Iran's nuclear ambitions.

Yesterday, Mr Barak suggested adding a naval blockade that would cut off Iran's economic lifeline, oil.

Israel views Iran as its greatest threat because of its nuclear programme, citing repeated references by the president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to the destruction of Israel and Iran's support for Palestinian and Lebanese militant groups.

With most of its population concentrated in a corridor of land along the Mediterranean, Israel's home front could be vulnerable to a counterattack if Israel strikes.

An Israeli attack would also likely spark retaliation from the Hamas militant group in the Gaza Strip to Israel's south and Hizbollah guerrillas in Lebanon.

Mr Barak lashed out at statements by current and former officials suggesting he and the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, were intent on attacking Iran over the objection of Israeli defence chiefs.

Any Israeli attack would likely draw Iranian retaliation, with media reports suggesting as many as 100,000 Israelis could be killed.

"This outlandish depiction [by the media] of two people, the prime minister and the defence minister ... leading the entire country into an adventurist operation is baseless and divorced from reality," Mr Barak said.

* Associated Press and Agence France-Presse