Iran boosts nuclear work, bomb fears remain: IAEA

Iran is pushing ahead with its atomic work in defiance of tougher sanctions.

Vienna: Iran is pushing ahead with its atomic work in defiance of tougher sanctions and the UN nuclear watchdog is concerned about Tehran`s objections to some of its inspectors, an IAEA report shows.

The confidential report, obtained by Reuters on Monday, also says the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) remains concerned about possible activity in the Islamic Republic to develop a nuclear payload for a missile.

It calls on Iran, which denies accusations it is seeking to build nuclear bombs, to grant the UN agency access to relevant sites, equipment and persons "without further delay," to help in its investigation.

Western powers are likely to see the report`s findings as backing up their suspicions that Tehran is seeking to develop nuclear bombs and underlining the need for the country to enter serious negotiations to curb its nuclear programme.

"This is a pretty critical report and it seems the sides have reached an impasse," said David Albright, head of the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security.

Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran`s envoy to the IAEA, said the report "has damaged the agency`s technical reputation" but it also made clear that all of Iran`s nuclear activities were under its "complete supervision."

"The numbers and statistics from Iran`s activities are signs of steps toward Iran`s progress and success in the field of nuclear technology," he was quoted as saying by Iran`s semi-official Mehr news agency.

Inspectors under "Pressure"

The West hopes the imposition since June of additional UN, US and European sanctions on the country will persuade the Iranian leadership to back down and halt sensitive atomic work.

Iran has repeatedly rejected such demands and is sending mixed signals about its readiness to negotiate with the West, offering unconditional talks on a plan to swap nuclear fuel but setting terms for any broader discussions.

The eight-year international dispute over Iran`s atomic activities has the potential to set off a regional arms race and spark a conflict in the Middle East.

The IAEA report voiced concern about what it called Iran`s "repeated" objections to the agency`s choice of inspectors working in the country.

Tehran barred two UN nuclear inspectors from entering in June, accusing them of reporting wrongly that some equipment was missing. There have been similar cases in the past.

"It adds to pressure on the inspectors," said a senior diplomat familiar with the IAEA`s work in Iran.

Albright said UN inspectors had been very frustrated with these objections from Iran. "It shows the erosion of the IAEA`s ability to do its job," he said.

The IAEA has been investigating for years Western intelligence reports indicating Iran has coordinated efforts to process uranium, to stage missile tests and to revamp a ballistic missile cone in a way suitable for a nuclear warhead.

Tehran says the intelligence is forged, but its record of secrecy has stoked suspicions, as did its launch in February of higher-grade uranium enrichment of 20 percent fissile purity, bringing it closer to weapons-grade material.

The IAEA report said Iran had produced around 2.8 tonnes of low-enriched uranium, up from 2.4 tonnes in May, as well as 22 kg of the higher-grade material.

Bureau Report