IAEA Suggests Iran May Be Developing Nuclear Arms

The International Atomic Energy Agency has issued a new report on Iran's suspect nuclear program. It says Iran has conducted experiments that could only be useful in the development of a nuclear weapon. Guy Raz talks to NPR's Mike Shuster for more.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

GUY RAZ, HOST:

And I'm Guy Raz. The International Atomic Energy Agency has released its latest report on Iran's controversial nuclear program, and it comes closer than ever to concluding that Iran is engaged in a nuclear weapons program. The report documents a wide variety of technology development in Iran, much of which is relevant to the production of nuclear weapons, but it stops short of saying Iran is dead set on acquiring nuclear weapons.

NPR's Mike Shuster joins us now to walk us through the report. And, Mike, there have been similar suggestions in previous IAEA reports, so what is new about this report?

MIKE SHUSTER, BYLINE: Well, first thing, Guy, it's a much more comprehensive report than previous reports. It's the first time that the IAEA has tried to synthesize all the information it's acquired about Iran, from its own inspectors who have been, you know, in many inspections over the years in Iran and from more than a thousand pages of documents it's included over the years. Plus, the report indicates the IAEA has received information from 10 member states, presumably this is intelligence from 10 member states, other nations that have acquired on their own information about Iran's nuclear activities.

Then, there's satellite imagery and interviews the agency conducted with someone who knew about Iran's clandestine procurement of advanced technology. So putting it all together, the IAEA is essentially nearing the conclusion that Iran has engaged in many areas of technological research related to nuclear weapons. It says there was a structured nuclear weapons program before 2003, and some of these activities may be ongoing.

RAZ: May be ongoing hardly sounds like a firm conclusion. What is some of the specific evidence the IAEA is weighing?

SHUSTER: Well, there's a lengthy list of activities and technologies the agency says it wants Iran to explain. They include procurement efforts outside Iran, nuclear components for an explosive device, detonators which could initiate a nuclear explosion, high explosives tests in a specially constructed containment vessel - this is a new thing. And the IAEA says Iran engaged in work to design a warhead for a missile delivery system for a nuclear bomb.

RAZ: That sounds conclusive. U.S. officials are talking as if they're certain that Iran is developing nuclear weapons. But as we said earlier, the IAEA is not willing to go that far. Why not?

SHUSTER: No, not willing to go that far. There is a lot of information in this report that's been divulged in the past. The IAEA noted in past reports that there was a structured nuclear weapons program in its early stages before 2003. But after that, Iran shut it down. Interestingly, after the United States ousted Saddam Hussein in Iraq. There were questions in previous IAEA reports about whether some of these activities had continued or were restarted after 2003. By the way, that's a similar finding to that of the U.S. intelligence community in its famous 2009 National Intelligence Estimate, came to the same conclusion.

What's different now is the detailed way that the IAEA has put together all this information for a much more complete picture of Iranian nuclear activities.

RAZ: And finally, Mike, there was a reference in the report to a foreign scientist who is involved with Iran's nuclear activities. Tell us about that.

SHUSTER: Yeah. The IAEA reports that a foreign expert spent time in Iran between 1996 and 2002. The IAEA reports this foreign expert was involved in the nuclear weapons program of the country of his origin, and he helped Iran in high explosives tests. The name of the foreign expert and his country are not divulged in the IAEA report, but in other reporting and the work of specialists, it's been determined that he is a Ukrainian who worked in these areas before the Soviet Union collapsed. The IAEA has met with him and had an opportunity to question him about his participation in these programs.

RAZ: Mike, thanks.

SHUSTER: You're welcome.

RAZ: That's NPR's Mike Shuster talking about the IAEA's new report on Iran's nuclear program.

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