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And I'm Melissa Block.
The world learned a bit more about Iran's nuclear activities today, thanks to another report from the International Atomic Energy Agency. According to the IAEA, Iran has become somewhat more cooperative in answering outstanding questions about its past secret nuclear operations. And the agency says Iran's current efforts to enrich uranium appear to be going much more slowly than previously anticipated.
Here is NPR's Mike Shuster.
MIKE SHUSTER: Earlier this summer, the government of Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency worked out a plan and timetable for resolving a set of questions the agency has had for quite sometime about Iran's past nuclear activities. Those questions focus on small-scale experiments with plutonium, the gas centrifuges Iran acquired to enrich uranium, working with uranium metal, and other issues.
In its report today, the IAEA said its questions about Iran's plutonium experiments have been answered. So the IAEA considers this particular matter resolved. This is an example of improved cooperation from Iran, the IAEA said.
Jeffrey Lewis, an expert on nuclear nonproliferation at the New America Foundation, believes this is a step forward for Iran and the IAEA.
Dr. JEFFREY LEWIS (Director, Nuclear Strategy and Nonproliferation Initiative, New American Foundation): That's really what need the IAEA for, is to give us a very clear picture of the scope of Iran's activities over the past 20 years.
SHUSTER: But today's report has not impressed the United States government, according to State Department spokesman, Tom Casey.
Mr. TOM CASEY (Deputy Spokesman, State Department): Iran hasn't, in any measurable way, clarified those outstanding issues that remain before the IAEA. They've made a commitment to do so, but none of those answers have been forthcoming, and these are questions that have been out there for over four years.
SHUSTER: The next key question is how Iran acquired the gas centrifuges that it is using to enrich uranium. The IAEA believes Iran received help in 1987 and then in the 1990s from the international nuclear black market organized by a Pakistani nuclear engineer, A.Q. Khan. But Iran has not accounted fully for these activities. This will be the key test for Iran says Jeffrey Lewis.
Dr. LEWIS: Getting the stories straight about these two periods, in 1987 and in the mid-1990s when Iran was a customer of the Khan network, will be extremely important to reconstructing history of Iran's activities and deciding whether or not they were doing this in secret just because they were worried about getting cut off or because there was a secret bomb program.
SHUSTER: Today's IAEA report also provides some additional information about Iran's current nuclear activities, in particular its efforts to enrich uranium. Iran's activities are apparently not as advanced as previously feared. It is operating just under 2,000 gas centrifuges at Natanz. But the IAEA report indicates these machines are not producing what they are capable of. And Lewis notes, the IAEA says the level of enrichment is below what the Iranian government claimed it was.
Dr. LEWIS: What that means is the Iranians are not operating the facility at full capacity, and that suggests that they're still having substantial problems.
SHUSTER: The Iranians appear to hope that this new effort at openness will convince the international community that Tehran can be trusted with nuclear technology, and that the economic sanctions imposed by the U.N. Security Council over the past year should be lifted.
But today, State Department Spokesman Tom Casey indicated the U.S. is far from convinced.
Mr. CASEY: The government of Iran has not done fundamentally what it's been asked to do repeatedly in IAEA Board of Governors resolutions and U.N. Security Council resolutions, which is suspend its uranium enrichment activities, answer all those outstanding questions, and engage in negotiations with the international community to be able to resolve the outstanding concerns about what has been a two-decade, clandestine nuclear program.
SHUSTER: The plan worked out between Iran and the IAEA gives the Iranians until early November to fill in all the blanks, and it looks like the U.S. is willing to give this process some time to play itself out. Casey said the U.S. would hold discussions over the next weeks and months on whether the U.N. Security Council should impose additional economic sanctions on Iran.
Mike Shuster, NPR News.
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