Diplomats: New traces of highly enriched uranium found in Iran

U.N. inspectors have found traces of highly enriched uranium on equipment from an Iranian research center linked to the military, diplomats said Friday, which could strengthen U.S. arguments that Tehran wants to develop nuclear arms.

The diplomats who demanded anonymity in exchange for divulging the confidential information cautioned that confirmation still had to come through other laboratory tests.

Initially, they said the density of enrichment appeared to be close to or above the level used to make nuclear warheads. But later, a well-placed diplomat accredited to the International Atomic Energy Agency said it was below that level, although higher than the low-enriched material used to generate power.

Still, they said, further analysis could show that the find matches others established to have come from abroad. The International Atomic Energy Agency determined earlier traces of highly enriched uranium were imported on equipment from Pakistan that Iran bought on the black market during nearly two decades of clandestine activity discovered just over three years ago.

Even then, however, the find would be significant.

Because Iran has previously denied conducting enrichment-related activities at the site, the mere fact that the traces came from there bolsters arguments that it has hidden parts of a program that can create the fissile material used in nuclear warheads. Additionally, the site's connection to the military weakens Iranian arguments that their nuclear program is purely civilian.

"That has long been suspected as the site of undeclared enrichment research and ... the Iranians have denied that any enrichment research had taken place at that location," said Iran expert Gary Samore of the McArthur Foundation in Chicago. "It certainly does reinforce the agency's suspicion that Iran has not fully declared its past enrichment research."

The development was still unlikely to result in an immediate American push for strong U.N. Security Council action against Tehran, reports AP.

O.Ch.