Iran’s nuclear activities came under further scrutiny at a 16 June meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna.

The ‘behind closed doors’ meeting of the IAEA board discussed an internal critical report on Iran, that had been produced ten days earlier, and which called for further inspections of its nuclear facilities to answer many outstanding questions.

In an opening statement, IAEA director general Mohammed ElBaradei appealed to Iran to give them ‘credible assurances’ of the peaceful nature of its nuclear activities. “I also continue to call on Iran to permit us to take environmental samples at the particular location where allegations about enrichment activities exist,” ElBaradei added. “This is clearly in the interest of both the agency and Iran.” A week-long meeting of the 35-nation board of the United Nations nuclear watchdog began ten days after the internal report claimed that Iran had failed to honour promises to disclose its use of nuclear material. The USA has said that it wants the IAEA to declare Iran to be in violation of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT).

The IAEA report was leaked to the media before the meeting and though it does not use the term ‘violation’, according to reports it states that Iran has failed to meet its obligations to: • Account for nuclear material.

• Report its subsequent processing and use.

• Declare facilities where the material is stored and processed Iran has denied the allegations contained in the IAEA document, insisting it wants to use nuclear energy only for peaceful purposes and not to develop nuclear weapons.

Since 1995, Russia has been helping Iran to build a nuclear power plant at Bushehr in a deal worth at least $800 million to Moscow. Both countries deny a nuclear arms programme and say that it is purely for civilian purposes. Iran has allowed the IAEA to inspect its VVER at Bushehr. That reactor is thought likely to start up in 2004.

After the IAEA report was leaked, the head of the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran (AEOI), Rezak Aghazadeh, issued a categorical denial that there were additional uranium enrichment facilities in the country, other than the non- operational facility at Natanz, one of the report’s most serious concerns. In a press conference he added that there were no other facilities in Iran that should have been placed under the safeguards of the IAEA, but the Agency wants to inspect Natanz and a heavy water facility elsewhere.

Another concern related to Iran’s 12-year delay in reporting that it had imported natural uranium from China in 1991, and its failure to detail what it has done with this uranim. Aghazadeh said that the small quantity was needed for study purposes and said that at the time, neither China, nor its experts, felt that it was necessary to declare this to the IAEA. It is believed that the IAEA is worried as much about the pattern of delays as the risk that the uranium is ‘missing’.

Iran has also so far declined to sign agreements that would allow tougher international inspections. It has recently blocked a new team of inspectors from looking at whether centrifuge components at Kalaye had been tested with uranium hexaflouride.

In a recent statement, G8 leaders said that the best way of addressing the proliferation implications of Iran’s nuclear programme was by Iran accepting more intrusive safeguards inspections under the Additional Protocol with the IAEA.

The EU has also called for a protocol providing for tougher, short-notice inspections of suspected nuclear sites.