Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Nuclear agency's Iran team

Task force forms as fears mount

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THE UN nuclear agency is forming a special Iran team, drawing together sleuths in weapons technology, intelligence analysis, radiation and other fields as it seeks to add muscle to a probe of suspicions Tehran worked secretly on atomic arms, diplomats tell The Associated Press.

Creating a unit focused on only one country is an unusual move for the International Atomic Energy Agency, reflecting the priority the UN nuclear watchdog is attaching to Iran amid fears it is moving closer to the ability to make nuclear weapons. It also indicates frustration by top agency officials over Iran's refusal to co-operate with IAEA experts who are trying to follow up on suspicions Tehran was -- or is -- secretly working on an arms program.

Iran says such allegations are based on evidence fabricated by the United States and Israel and insists its nuclear program is meant only for making reactor fuel, medical isotopes and peaceful research. But it refuses to give up uranium enrichment, which can produce both reactor fuel and the core of nuclear warheads, despite offers of fuel from abroad. And its stonewalling of the IAEA probe has increased concerns it has something to hide.

The agency's move comes at a crucial time. With the agency and international diplomatic efforts stalemated in attempts to engage the Islamic republic on its nuclear program, fears are growing tensions could turn into conflict.

Israeli leaders have been loudly expressing impatience over Western diplomatic and economic moves to deter Iran and increasingly talk of attacking its nuclear facilities, though some analysts believe the sabre-rattling is a bluff to increase pressure on Tehran.

The four diplomats, who demanded anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the plans, spoke ahead of a renewed attempt today by the agency to breach Iranian resistance to its requests for access to sites, documents and people linked to the suspected secret weapons-related work.

Instead of focusing on only one country, agency experts up to now have been tasked with following dozens of nations as they look for signs indicating secret attempts to make nuclear weapons. Under the planned reorganization, said one of the diplomats, a "dedicated team" of about 20 experts will be drawn from the main IAEA pool to focus solely on the agency's Iran investigation.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 24, 2012 A19

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