Iran nuclear report fails to convince the West

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The United Nations nuclear watchdog said in a confidential report to the Security Council last night that Tehran has been co-operating in providing the agency with information about its past activities but also conceded that its "knowledge about Iran's current nuclear programmes is diminishing".

Submitted by Mohamed ElBaradei, the director of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the document will do nothing to ease tensions between the West and Iran nor quell speculation of eventual military action. Rather, it will provide new ammunition to Western governments seeking to impose new sanctions on Iran, notably the United States, Britain and France.

Those three countries circulated a 10-page compendium of questions late on Wednesday that they said must be answered by Iran if it is to convince the three countries of Iran's claim that its nuclear programme is aimed solely at civil energy generation and not at the development of nuclear weapons as they suspect.

Last night, the White House said Iran continues to provide only "partial answers" on its nuclear program and Washington will push ahead with a third UN resolution calling for sanctions against Tehran.

In a gesture meant to assuage Western scepticism, Iran earlier this week handed over blueprints that the IAEA has been demanding since 2005 showing how uranium can be moulded into hemispheres, the purpose of which can only be the building of an atom bomb. Tehran has previously said the diagrams came to it unsolicited from the Pakistani nuclear trafficker, A Q Khan.

Handing over documents in such piecemeal fashion is unlikely to impress Tehran's critics, however. "Selective co-operation is not good enough," Gregory Schulte, the US envoy to the IAEA, responded.

The five members of the UN Security Council joined by Germany are to meet in Brussels on Monday to discuss imposing a third round of sanctions on Iran. They will point to a passage in last night's IAEA report noting that Iran is continuing to defy Security Council demands that it cease its ongoing uranium enrichment activities.

The IAEA report, as expected, does give Iran good marks for filling in gaps as regards its past nuclear activities. "Iran has provided sufficient access to individuals and has responded in a timely manner to questions and provided clarifications and amplifications on issues raised in the context of the work plan," it said.

Asked about the IAEA's report, the State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said: "Partial credit doesn't cut it. These are partial answers."

The White House and its ambassador at the United Nations, Zalmay Khalilzad, said the US would continue to work for a new round of sanctions against Tehran. "This report indicates that Iran continues to defy the international community and two unanimous UN Security Council resolutions," said Dana Perino, the White House spokeswoman. "We believe that Iran should be fully co-operating and not stringing along the IAEA during this process."