· Tip-offs did not lead to signs of banned activity
· IAEA report raises pressure for new sanctions
Julian Borger in
Friday February 23, 2007
Much of the intelligence on
The claims, reminiscent of the intelligence fiasco surrounding the Iraq war, coincided with a sharp increase in international tension as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported that Iran was defying a UN security council ultimatum to freeze its nuclear programme.
That report, delivered to the security council by the IAEA director general, Mohamed ElBaradei, sets the stage for a fierce international debate
on the imposition of stricter sanctions on
At the heart of the debate are accusations, spearheaded by
"Most of it has turned out to be incorrect," said a diplomat at the IAEA with detailed knowledge of the agency's investigations. "They gave us a paper with a list of sites. [The inspectors] did some follow-up, they went to some military sites, but there was no sign of [banned nuclear] activities."
"Now [the inspectors] don't go in blindly. Only if it passes a credibility test."
One particularly contentious issue
concerned records of plans to build a nuclear warhead, which the CIA said it
found on a stolen laptop computer supplied by an informant inside
"First of all, if you have a clandestine programme, you don't put it on laptops which can walk away," one official said. "The data is all in English which may be reasonable for some of the technical matters, but at some point you'd have thought there would be at least some notes in Farsi. So there is some doubt over the provenance of the computer."
IAEA officials do not comment on intelligence passed to the watchdog agency by foreign governments, saying all such assistance is confidential.
A western counter-proliferation official
accepted that intelligence on
"I take on board on what they're saying, but the bottom line is that for nearly 20 years [the Iranians] were violating safeguards agreements," the official said. "There is a confidence deficit here about the regime's true intentions."
That deficit will be deepened by
yesterday's IAEA report. It concluded bluntly: "
Furthermore, the report said that Iran
had informed the agency of its plan to install 18 arrays, or cascades, of 164
centrifuges in an underground plant by May - a total of nearly 3,000. At the
report said that
Furthermore, the IAEA still has a string
of questions about the Iranian programme that remain
unanswered. Until they are, the agency will not give
One of the "outstanding issues"
listed in yesterday's report involves a 15-page document that appears to have
been handed to IAEA inspectors by mistake in October 2005. That document
roughly describes how to make hemispheres of enriched uranium, for which the
only known use is in nuclear warheads.
The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, said he was "deeply concerned". "I urge again that the Iranian government should fully comply with the demands as soon as possible and engage in negotiations with the international community so that we can resolve this issue peacefully."