x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

UN atomic watchdog says Iran failing to co-operate properly

As Tehran began electricity production at its first atomic power plant, the International Atomic Energy Agency said Iran was not giving credible assurances about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities.

VIENNA // The head of the UN's atomic watchdog accused Tehran of failing to cooperate fully with his inspectors yesterday as Tehran began electricity production at its first atomic power plant.

Yukiya Amano, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told the IAEA's 35-nation board he hoped to "set out in greater detail the basis for the agency's concerns so that all member states are fully informed".

Such a move by Mr Amano would add to pressure on Iran, one of the world's largest oil producers, which is facing tightening international sanctions pressure over a nuclear programme the West suspects has military aims.

"Iran is not providing the necessary cooperation to enable the agency to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities," Mr Amano said.

He spoke a day after Iran said it was ready for fresh nuclear talks with major powers, and had sent a letter to the European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

In Tehran, the Iranian foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, said the 1,000-megawatt Russian-built Bushehr plant started generating electricity at up to 40 per cent of its capacity.

Iran held an official ceremony to mark the event. The Russian energy minister, Sergei Shmatko, who arrived in the Iranian capital on Sunday was in attendance. Bushehr joined the national electricity network with a capacity of about 60 megawatts on September 3.

The Islamic republic has in recent weeks signalled increased openness and willingness to cooperate with the IAEA about its disputed nuclear work, which it says is for purely peaceful purposes.

But Western diplomats have dismissed this as an Iranian "charm offensive" without substance and an apparent attempt by Tehran to buy time, while it refuses to bow to demands to halt sensitive uranium enrichment.

Since talks between global powers and Iran foundered in January, Russia has advocated a phased plan in which Tehran would address concerns that it may be seeking nuclear weapons, and be rewarded with an easing of sanctions.

Iran has often said it is willing to resume talks. But its insistence that other countries recognise its right to enrich uranium is a major stumbling block, particularly for western diplomats who see it as an unacceptable precondition.

Uranium enriched to a low level of purity is suitable for running civilian nuclear power plants. If refined to a much higher degree, it can form the core of nuclear bombs.

Mr Amano said Iran had demonstrated "greater transparency" during a five-day visit by a senior IAEA official to the country last month, when it showed facilities the agency had not had access to for several years.

But, "greater transparency and Iran's full proactive engagement are also needed concerning its other nuclear activities".

* Reuters with additional reporting by Bloomberg News