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U.S., Iran Face Off Over Nukes

Explaining Tehran's decision to bar the United Nations from some sensitive sites, a senior Iranian envoy told a 35-nation meeting Wednesday that his country fears leaked information the inspectors gather could help those planning a possible military strike.

At the same meeting — of the board of the International Atomic Energy Agency — the United States, which has not ruled out such an attack, urged U.N. Security Council action against Tehran, saying it is "cynically" pursuing nuclear arms.

Jackie Sanders, chief U.S. delegate to the International Atomic Energy Agency board of governors, also urged North Korea to commit to a "verifiable and irreversible end" to its nuclear program and to return to six-party talks.

North Korea "needs to make a strategic choice to step off the dangerous path it has set for itself," Sanders said as the board sought agreement on a statement urging the Pyongyang to return to negotiations and to end nuclear threats.

IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei refused to characterize Sanders' comments on Iran, which were in response to an IAEA update on Tehran's nuclear record after more than two years of examination by the agency.

But he said the "ball is very much in Iran's court to come clean" by cooperating to clear lingering suspicions about possible nuclear weapons ambitions.

Iran's refusal to grant IAEA inspectors renewed access to the Parchin military site after an initial severely restricted visit last month was one of the issues raised by the agency's review.

The United States alleges that Iran may be testing high-explosive components for nuclear weapons by using an inert core of depleted uranium at Parchin as a dry run for a bomb that would use fissile material.

Iran asserts that its military is not involved in nuclear activities, and the IAEA has no firm evidence to the contrary. The agency also has not been able to support U.S. assertions that nearly 20 years of covert nuclear programs discovered more than two years ago were aimed at making nuclear weapons — not generating electricity, as Tehran claims.

Iranian chief delegate Sirous Nasseri noted that his country was not obligated to allow any access to sites like Parchin, which are not part of the agency's purview.

Worries about "confidentiality of information" gathered on such visits "are more intense in view of potential threats of military strikes against ... facilities visited by (the) agency," he said.

While describing fears that America was getting ready for an attack as "ridiculous," U.S. President George W. Bush said last week that "all options are on the table."

Sanders called the IAEA report a "startling list of Iranian attempts to hide and mislead and delay the work" of agency experts. Tehran, she said, was guilty of "cynically" manipulating the Nonproliferation Treaty and related programs "in the pursuit of nuclear weapons."

She urged support for the U.S. drive to have Iran referred to U.N. Security Council, saying: "The board has a statutory obligation to so."

The IAEA review also focused on Iran's decision to block any further probing of possible dual use equipment at the Lavizan-Shian site near Tehran — a move that effectively shut down one area of the agency's inquiry.

The U.S. State Department last year said Lavizan-Shian's buildings had been completely dismantled and that topsoil had been removed from the site in attempts to hide nuclear-weapons related experiments.

The review also noted that Iran continues to build a heavy water reactor in the city of Arak that can produce plutonium, despite agency requests to cease construction on the facility.

As well, it mentioned delays by Iran in informing the agency it was building tunnels in the central city of Isfahan for nuclear storage, and blips in its commitment to totally freeze all activities related to uranium enrichment.

Iran has suspended work on its enrichment program pending negotiations with France, Germany and Britain. But it has repeatedly said the freeze is short-term, despite hopes that it will fully scrap its plans.

Sanders said Wednesday that nothing short of "full cessation and dismantling" of enrichment activities "can give us any confidence that Iran is no longer producing nuclear weapons.

But Iran insists on its right to enrichment.

"This is something that is not on the table and will not be on the table," Nasseri told reporters, saying his country had "gone through blood and sweat and tears" to develop the program.

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