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Iran Still Steadily Producing Uranium

Washington Post Interview with Yukiya Amano with Lally Weymouth



14 February 2011


The Post's Lally Weymouth talked to Yukiya Amano, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, in Vienna. Excerpts:

WP: Many believe that Iran carried out nuclear weapons research in the past, including work on weaponization... Do you agree with this?

YUKIYA AMANO, DIRECTOR GENERAL, IAEA: We receive information from various countries and collect information from our own sources that give us concern over the possible use of nuclear materials for military purposes - in the past and perhaps now.

WP: How is Iran complying with the IAEA? Your last report indicated some frustration.

AMANO: We ask them to declare - we ask about their activities... We don't know if there are other activities outside their declaration. We are not sure if they are hiding something.

WP: What is the next step if they are not forthcoming?

AMANO: We continue to press them. If they don't [clarify], I have to report it to the [IAEA] Board of Governors. For the time being, I don't see any indication that we can make progress.

WP: Will you say in your February report that Iran was engaged in nuclear weaponization before 2003?

AMANO: We don't say that. We don't have a smoking gun. We have concerns.

WP: Will the IAEA press for access to further locations in Iran?

AMANO: Yes, this is an issue that we have been discussing. We want to know more about what they are doing... But Iran does not tell us well in advance about the construction of new facilities.

WP: How badly was Iran's centrifuge program affected by the [Stuxnet cyber] worm from 2009?

AMANO: Iran is somehow producing uranium enriched to 3.5 percent and 20 percent. They are producing it steadily, constantly.

WP: The amount of enriched uranium has not been affected?

AMANO: The production is very steady.

WP: Some say that from the moment Ayatollah [Ali] Khamenei gives the order to make the bomb it will take a year.

AMANO: This is a question where we don't have much expertise. What we are doing is [tracking] how much enriched uranium they have.

WP: President [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad seems very determined to build a nuclear program.

AMANO: I have the same impression.

WP: What is the status of the al-Kibar situation [in Syria]?

AMANO: The main issue in Syria is the al-Kibar site that was destroyed by Israel in 2007. They have constructed new buildings and we visited after the destruction in 2008. After that we continued asking Syria to allow us further access, but they did not. As I didn't receive a response, I wrote a letter to the foreign minister in November.

WP: [Syrian] President [Bashar] al-Assad recently denied the facility ever existed.

AMANO: Yes, he said the facility was not a nuclear reactor... The problem is that this facility was destroyed, cleaned up and a new building was built on that ground. We hope to visit again, we hope to check it again. But the facility which was touted to be a nuclear reactor is gone.

WP: What is the Syrian explanation for the particles you found?

AMANO: We have particles of uranium that are man-made, not natural... One allegation is that the depleted uranium used by Israel in the bombs may be the origin, but we don't think that is likely. It's not totally impossible, but it is highly unlikely.

WP: If they are so honest, why won't they let your inspectors in?

AMANO: They say it is not a nuclear reactor.

WP: Was the Syrian [nuclear] program eliminated by the Israeli bombing?

AMANO: The nuclear reactor was eliminated.

WP: Egypt has a nuclear research reactor... Do you think these facilities are protected?

AMANO: I don't have particular concern about the nuclear research facility in Egypt. We are in good cooperation. Egypt is different than Syria or Iran.

WP: What proliferation threats do you see beyond Iran? What about Myanmar, for example?

AMANO: We are following the situation in Myanmar carefully and collecting information. . . . The North Korea situation is very worrying. They withdrew from the Non-Proliferation Treaty, they expelled the inspectors, they detonated bombs, and now they say they have enrichment facilities. So it is a bad situation. Our staff was asked to leave the country in April 2009 and after that we have had no information we can get on the ground.

WP: What do you think of your predecessor, [Mohamed] ElBaradei?... People say he covered up for Iran because he was afraid that President [George W.] Bush would go to war with Iran if he told the truth.

AMANO: I respect him... [But] there is a difference in style. I want to be as clear as possible and I am very firm. I am the guardian of non-proliferation.

WP: You said the worm didn't do Iran much damage, that they have enough material to build a nuclear weapon if they stockpile low-enriched uranium?

AMANO: I can say they have well over 3 000 kilograms of enriched uranium of 3.5 percent and it is increasing.

WP: So they are stockpiling it?

AMANO: Yes. A Security Council resolution asks Iran to suspend [enrichment]. But contrary to this resolution they keep doing it.

WP: Aren't you worried that they can divert behind your back?

AMANO: If our safeguards are applied properly, there is not that possibility.

WP: What is your number-one worry?

AMANO: We need to have more access, better cooperation from Iran and better implementation of the rules. I am not against Iran. I just want everyone to respect and implement rules.

WP: And they are not doing it right now?

AMANO: No. Or not sufficiently.