A recent House of Representatives committee report on Iran's nuclear capability is "outrageous and dishonest" in trying to make a case that Tehran's program is geared toward making weapons, a senior official of the U.N. nuclear watchdog has said.
The letter, obtained by The Associated Press on Thursday outside a 35-nation board meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency, says the report is false in saying Iran is making weapons-grade uranium at an experimental enrichment site, when it has in fact produced material only in small quantities that is far below the level that can be used in nuclear arms.
The letter was first reported on by The Washington Post. It also says the report erroneously says that IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei removed a senior nuclear inspector from the team investigating Iran's nuclear program "for concluding that the purpose of Iran's nuclear program is to construct weapons."
In fact, the inspector was sidelined on Tehran's request, and the Islamic republic had a right to ask for a replacement under agreements that govern all states relationships with the agency, said the letter, calling the report's version "incorrect and misleading."
"In addition," says the letter, "the report contains an outrageous and dishonest suggestion that such removal might have been for 'not having adhered to an unstated IAEA policy barring IAEA officials from telling the whole truth about the Iranian nuclear program.'"
Dated Aug. 12, the letter was addressed to Rep. Peter Hoekstra, chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. It was signed by Vilmos Cserveny, a senior director of the Vienna-based agency.
An IAEA official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment on the letter, said it was written "to set the record straight."
Jamal Ware, a spokesman for the House committee, confirmed they had received the letter and said the chairman had referred it to Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., and Rep. Rush Hold, D-N.J. They will review it and issue a formal response if necessary, he said.
"All IAEA complains about is a photo caption. If you read the report, it's very clear that what it is saying is that Iran is working to develop the capability to enrich uranium to weapons grade, not that they have done so," Ware said. "They use a string of adjectives, while not pointing to any substantive criticism of the report. There are areas where we would disagree with them. A disagreement does not make what we say erroneous."
The dispute was reminiscent of the clashes between the IAEA and Washington over whether Saddam Hussein was trying to make weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear arms. American arguments that Saddam had such covert arms programs were given as the chief reason for invading Iraq and toppling Saddam.
ElBaradei's criticism of the U.S. standpoint on Iraq and subsequent perceptions that he was soft on Iran in his staff's investigation of suspicions Tehran's nuclear activities may be a cover for a weapons program led to a failed attempt last year by Washington to prevent his re-election.