Nov. 9 (Bloomberg) -- Iran continued working on nuclear weapons at least until last year, including efforts to shrink a Pakistani warhead design to fit atop its ballistic missiles, a report from United Nations inspectors said.
The International Atomic Energy Agency, drawing on evidence collected over eight years, reported yesterday that Iran carried out “work on the development of an indigenous design of a nuclear weapon including the testing of components.”
The document shows that Iran worked to redesign and miniaturize a Pakistani nuclear-weapon design by using a web of front companies and overseas experts, according to the report and an international official familiar with the IAEA’s probe. Such a warhead could be mounted on Iran’s Shahab-3 missile, which has the range to reach Israel, according to the IAEA.
The report adds to international pressure on Iran to answer questions about its program. It was released amid reports in Israeli media that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is pressing his Cabinet to support possible military action to halt Iran’s nuclear program.
The U.S. and European nations may pursue additional sanctions against Iran following the report’s release and are waiting to see how Iran responds, according to two U.S. officials who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity. Iran already is under UN sanctions and the U.S. has imposed sanctions on Iranian government agencies, financial institutions and government officials.
France and its allies are ready to impose “unprecedented sanctions” on Iran if it doesn’t fully cooperate with the IAEA, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said in a statement today.
China and Russia, two veto-wielding UN Security Council members, questioned the timing and outcome of the IAEA report. Russia suspects the authors of some comments in document of “political dishonesty,” according to a statement by Moscow’s Foreign Ministry. The report should trigger “dialogue and cooperation” without triggering “new instability,” China’s Foreign Ministry said.
The administration officials said the IAEA’s conclusions don’t conflict with U.S. intelligence estimates that Tehran’s government scaled back nuclear-weapons development in 2003 while maintaining the capability to resume. The officials said Iran’s nuclear weapons efforts have proceeded sporadically since 2003 and that the U.S. believes advancement since then hasn’t been dramatic.
In its report, the Vienna-based IAEA said, “some activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device continued after 2003” and “some may still be ongoing.”
Until now, atomic inspectors had only voiced concerns publicly about the “possible existence” of weapons work in Iran.
State-run PressTV said Iran “has rejected” the IAEA report as “unbalanced and politically motivated.” Iran has told IAEA inspectors that evidence used against the Persian Gulf country was forged.
The agency’s report brought calls in the U.S. for tougher action against Iran.
It’s “further proof that the U.S. and other responsible nations must take decisive action to stop the regime from acquiring a nuclear capability,” said U.S. Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican who is chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
The IAEA report also “could increase the risk of a military attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities” and therefore “justified a certain risk premium on the price of oil,” Commerzbank wrote yesterday in a research note. Crude oil for December delivery rose $1.28 to $96.80 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, the highest settlement since July 28. Futures are up 5.9 percent this year.
Iran worked on high-explosives design and the development of a neutron generator, the part of an atomic bomb that starts a nuclear chain reaction, according to the senior international official.
“Iran embarked on a four-year program, from around 2006 onward, on the further validation of the design of this neutron source,” the IAEA said in the report, citing one member state that shared information with inspectors.
The agency revealed details of “large-scale high-explosives” experiments conducted near Marivan in 2003. The experiments would have helped Iran calibrate the explosive impact of a bomb’s uranium core, according to the report.
“The information comes from a wide variety of independent sources, including from a number of member states, from the agency’s own efforts and from information provided by Iran itself,” the IAEA said in the document.
It is the first time that the IAEA has published a comprehensive analysis of Iran’s nuclear-weapons work. Data before 2003 are more complete than information seen afterward, according to the senior official. The agency shared a copy of the information with Iranian authorities before the report was published, the official said.
Iran increased its supply of 20 percent-enriched uranium to 73.7 kilograms (162.5 pounds) from 70.8 kilograms reported in September at a pilot nuclear facility in Natanz about 300 kilometers (186 miles) south of Tehran, the IAEA said. Iran has produced 4,922 kilograms of uranium enriched to less than 5 percent compared with 4,543 kilograms in the last IAEA report.
About 630 kilograms of low-enriched uranium, if further purified, could yield the 15 kilograms to 22 kilograms of weapons-grade uranium needed by an expert bomb maker to craft a weapon, according to the London-based Verification Research, Training and Information Center, a non-governmental observer to the IAEA that is funded by European governments.