Uranium traces found at Tehran university

Iranian and United Nations nuclear officials began a new round of talks after traces of weapons-grade uranium that were found at a university in Tehran, it was reported.

Meanwhile, in Washington, US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice said the US and European allies Britain, France and Germany would continue to press Russia and China on the need to boost pressure on Iran to halt its controversial uranium enrichment.

It was not clear from yesterday’s IRNA news agency report how or when the weapons-grade uranium contamination was discovered at the Technology Faculty of a state university.

The meeting between the International Atomic Energy Agency delegation and its Iranian hosts comes in the wake of a surprising US intelligence report last week that concluded Iran had stopped its nuclear weapons programme in late 2003 and had not resumed it since.

The weapons programme is separate from uranium enrichment, which Iran continues to do and which experts say could make it possible for Tehran to still develop a nuclear weapon between 2010 and 2015.

The United States and some of its allies accuse Iran of seeking to build nuclear weapons, but Tehran has denied the charges, saying the uranium enrichment is only geared towards generating electricity, not a nuclear bomb.

Yesterday’s talks also follow an IAEA report last month which stated Iran had been generally truthful about its past uranium enrichment activities. Much of the 10-page report focused on Iran’s black-market procurements and past development of uranium enrichment technology.

But the talks in Tehran focused on the university find. It is believed this was the first time the incident was discussed.

The IAEA’s mandate obliges it to investigate a country’s nuclear activities and probe all suspicious findings, such as the traces at Tehran university.

In 2003, the IAEA revealed other incidents where traces of weapons-grade uranium were found elsewhere in the country, but Iran at the time said those traces came from imported equipment that had been contaminated before it was purchased.

IAEA findings in 2005 vindicated Iran, saying the traces of highly enriched uranium were found on centrifuge parts that had entered the country already contaminated and that the contamination was not a result of Iranian nuclear activities. The centrifuge parts were bought from Pakistan.

The IAEA delegation in yesterday’s talks was headed by Herman Nackartes, head of the watchdog’s Safeguard Operations department.

In its November report, the IAEA also said it requested access to documents, individuals and relevant equipment and locations for sample-taking to determine the source of the contamination.

Iran maintains it would never give up its right under the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty to enrich uranium and produce nuclear fuel, despite two rounds of UN sanctions over its refusal to stop enrichment.

The US is pushing for a new, third round of UN sanctions. Ms Rice said today the US and allies were “working on finalising a Security Council resolution - the text of one – that could then be sent to the Security Council to be voted on some time in the next several weeks.”

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