Experts say traces of bomb-grade uranium found in Iran are not evidence of an alleged clandestine nuclear weapons program. But Washington said that Iran should not be let off the hook.
"The biggest smoking gun that everyone was waving is now eliminated with these conclusions," said the Washington Post, quoting an anonymous senior official who disclosed the still-confidential findings on Tuesday.
Scientists from the United States, France, Japan, Britain and Russia met secretly during the past nine months to scrutinize the data collected from Iran by inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The group successfully matched samples of highly enriched uranium - a key ingredient in nuclear weapons - with centrifuge equipment turned over by the Pakistani government recently, according to the front-page report.
Iran has long contended that the uranium traces were the result of contaminated equipment bought years ago from Pakistan, but the Bush administration had pointed to the material as evidence that Iran was making bomb-grade ingredients, the report said.
The Post article also said the conclusions will be shared with IAEA board members in a report due the first week of September, quoting US and European officials who agreed to discuss details of the investigation on the condition of anonymity.
The existence of the group of experts had not been previously reported, the newspaper said, adding that they had met in secret to pore over data collected by inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
The IAEA, according to Western diplomats, has already concluded that enriched uranium particles found in Iran were from smuggled Pakistani equipment.