Page last updated at 00:20 GMT, Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Iran plays down UN nuclear report

A satellite image of what analysts believe is the facility at Qom
A UN team was allowed access to inspect the Qom site last month

Iran has played down a report by the UN's nuclear watchdog that found questions remained unanswered about a nuclear facility near the city of Qom.

The International Atomic Energy Agency says Iran must explain the history and purpose of the recently declared site.

But Iran's envoy to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltaniyeh, said the report was "repetitive" and Tehran had handed over all information on the facility.

Iran denies claims by some Western nations it is developing nuclear arms.

A UN team was allowed access to inspect the Qom site last month.

In its report, the IAEA said the delayed declaration of the plant raised concerns about other possible secret sites.

'Full co-operation'

Mr Soltaniyeh told al-Alam TV: "Iran has provided all information about the new facility and the material inside it.

"We will later proceed with installing the required equipment. The facility will go online in 2011.

He said he was "comfortable" with the report, as it confirmed Iran was "fully co-operating" and that the activities at Qom were "in accordance with the IAEA instructions and limitations".

"Inspectors scoured the facility for two complete days. Everything was compatible with the non-proliferation treaty," he said.

Paul Reynolds
Paul Reynolds, BBC world affairs correspondent

The IAEA report on the site near Qom basically confirms that it will be capable of housing some 3,000 centrifuges for uranium enrichment. Iran has said that it is building the plant to protect its technology from potential attack, and the head of the IAEA has said there is nothing to worry about at the site.

But what does worry the governments trying to negotiate with Iran is the secrecy that surrounded the plant. The report says such secrecy does not "contribute to the building of confidence".

In the wider picture, there is still stalemate over the proposal to take Iran's stockpile of low-enriched uranium and enrich it in Russia and France. Senior diplomats from the US, Russia, China and the EU will meet soon as pressure grows for further sanctions on Iran if no agreement on its uranium enrichment can be reached by the end of the year.

Iran revealed the existence of the Fordo enrichment facility, which is being built about 30km (20 miles) north of Qom, in September.

The IAEA report said this did "not contribute to the building of confidence" and "gives rise to questions about whether there were any other nuclear facilities not declared to the agency".

Iran's delay in notification was "inconsistent with its obligations", the report said.

The IAEA said it expected the Qom site to start enriching uranium in 2011.

"Iran's explanation about the purpose of the facility and the chronology of its design and construction requires further clarification," it said.

BBC Iran correspondent Jon Leyne says the report raises key questions about the timing of the site's construction.

He says Iran's declaration that it began the project in 2007 does not square with the IAEA's evidence that there was work there as far back as 2002.

The report said satellite imagery showed there was work in Qom between 2002 and 2004, and that this had resumed in 2006 and "continued to date".

Mined uranium ore is purified and reconstituted into solid form known as yellowcake
Yellowcake is converted into a gas by heating it to about 64C (147F)
Gas is fed through centrifuges, where its isotopes separate and process is repeated until uranium is enriched
Low-level enriched uranium is used for nuclear fuel
Highly enriched uranium can be used in nuclear weapons

But the US state department said Iran was still refusing to comply fully with its international nuclear obligations.

The report came after Russia said a nuclear power station it had been building at Bushehr in southern Iran would not be completed by the end of this year as planned because of "technical reasons".

The BBC's Richard Galpin in Moscow says the decision to delay the completion is an expression of Russia's frustration at Iran's failure to accept an offer now on the table from the international community.

Under a plan brokered by the IAEA and agreed by Russia, the US and France, Iran would send about 1,200kg (2,600lb), or 70%, of its low-enriched uranium, to Russia by the year's end for processing.

Iran has raised "technical and economic considerations" with the IAEA and has missed deadlines to respond.

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