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Iran nukes still a concern - IAEA

IAEA inspectors say they have found traces of highly enriched uranium at Iran's Natanz nuclear plant.
IAEA inspectors say they have found traces of highly enriched uranium at Iran's Natanz nuclear plant.

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(CNN) -- Inspectors have found traces of highly enriched uranium at an Iranian nuclear plant, but say they have not determined whether Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons, a spokesman for the U.N. nuclear agency said Tuesday.

Inspectors report finding particles at the Natanz nuclear facility that contain a higher percentage of enriched uranium than is needed for a civilian power program, said Mark Gwozdecky, a spokesman for the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna.

But Iranian officials have told the agency those traces came from equipment imported from another country, he said.

He would not disclose what country allegedly provided the equipment -- which included centrifuges used to enrich uranium and machinery associated with them -- but said inspectors were following up on that assertion with officials from that country.

"Additional work is also required to enable the agency to arrive at a conclusion about Iran's statements that there have been no uranium enrichment activities in Iran involving nuclear material," the IAEA report concluded.

A western diplomat told CNN the report does not answer "the big question -- whether or not Iran has a nuclear weapons program." The diplomat said "about a half-dozen" questions remain unresolved, but the IAEA has "come a long way" Iran's work on then-secret nuclear facilities emerged last year.

The report indicates that IAEA inspectors will need to conduct further inspections of facilities connected to Iran's centrifuge program as well as gathering further environmental samples.

The diplomat said it will take time to check out Iran's claim that the highly enriched uranium came from contaminated equipment.

The United States has accused Iran of secretly developing a nuclear weapons program. Iran insists that its nuclear program is peaceful and aimed at producing 6,000 megawatts of electricity, an amount they said would be needed in the country in 20 years time.

Iran has said it was willing to sign an additional protocol to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty allowing IAEA inspectors to conduct snap inspections, but has yet to do so.

Iranian officials say they want guarantees that those inspections would not violate their sovereignty, and they want the right to receive nuclear technology from more developed nations in return.

Iran has told the IAEA it will begin talks on that protocol, which Gwozdecky called a "positive step."

"We're hopeful by the time our board meets in November, we will have moved decisively towards resolving the outstanding issues," he said.

The diplomat did not expect the IAEA's board of directors to declare Iran in non-compliance at its September 8 meeting. Most likely, there will be a statement noting the positive steps taken by Iran and applying "maximum pressure" on Iran to deliver on the remaining issues. It would be presented as a "last opportunity."

If Iran is judged to have fallen short of full compliance by the agency's November meeting, the board could refer the matter to the U.N. Security Council.

Iran has provided information and access to inspectors in slowly and incrementally at times, the inspectors concluded, and "some of the information was in contrast to that previously provided by Iran."

But they said Iran has demonstrated an increased degree of cooperation with inspectors.

In June, the IAEA's 35-nation governing board criticized Iran for failing to report some of its nuclear material and facilities, raising concerns in the international community -- particularly Washington -- about its nuclear ambitions.

Gwozdecky said Iran has a "large and sophisticated" nuclear program, and he warned against "jumping to conclusions on the basis of partial knowledge."

"There are a number of scenarios which would explain why highly enriched uranium might be found in Iran," he said. "We need to examine every one of those scenarios to determine which is the most plausible."

-- CNN National Security Producer Pam Benson in Washington contributed to this report

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