VIENNA — The UN atomic agency bemoaned "major differences" with Iran after two fruitless visits probing suspected nuclear weapons work, adding that Tehran had substantially boosted uranium enrichment.
"An intensive discussion was held on the structured approach to the clarification of all outstanding issues related to Iran's nuclear programme" during two recent visits, the International Atomic Energy Agency said.
"No agreement was reached between Iran and the Agency, as major differences existed," it said in a new report circulated to member states late Friday and seen by AFP.
"The agency continues to have serious concerns regarding possible military dimensions to Iran's nuclear programme," it said, two days after a team led by Herman Nackaerts returned from a visit dubbed a "failure" by Washington.
A senior official familiar with the IAEA investigation also hit out at Iran's negotiating tactics during the two trips to Tehran in the past month -- another is not planned -- with the IAEA team only able to speak to "middle men."
"We wanted to be sure that we could run this investigative process the way we wanted to run it... (with) the kind of normal things that you would expect in a normal investigation," the official said on condition of anonymity.
"Iran had difficulties with this. Iran wanted to really constrain the process, and put us in a harness, having an exhaustive list of questions and things like that."
In particular, Iran refused to allow the team access to the Parchin military site near Tehran, where a November IAEA report said scientists had conducted suspicious explosives tests.
That extensive report focused on a number of areas where the IAEA believes Iran carried out a range of activities the agency said could only conceivably be aimed at developing nuclear weapons.
Iranian officials repeated their assertion during the visits that the report, which has prompted Western countries to ramp up sanctions and raised speculation of Israeli plans for air strikes, was based on forgeries, the agency said.
The Wall Street Journal said the Pentagon has notified US lawmakers of plans to bolster US defenses in and around the Strait of Hormuz to be prepared for a military response against Iran.
New mine-detection and clearing equipment as well as improved surveillance capabilities are part of the planned build-up, the Wall Street Journal said Friday, citing defense officials briefed on the requests.
The Pentagon also wants to modify ship weapons systems to best deal with Iranian attack boats in the Strait, said the report.
From Tehran, the Islamic republic's envoy to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, said Friday that access to the Parchin site required agreement on the reasons for such a visit.
"There was no agreement, and talks must continue until there is one."
But he insisted: "Iran, which is a responsible country and one that respects international rules, will continue its cooperation with the IAEA."
The IAEA also said that Iran had tripled its capacity to enrich uranium to 20-percent purities since November, and was now producing around 14 kilos uranium per month, with around 105 kilos already stockpiled.
Enriching uranium to 20 percent is a major step towards purifying it to 90-percent levels needed for a nuclear weapon, although Iran denies intending to do so, saying its activities are peaceful.
On Saturday The New York Times reported US intelligence analysts continue to believe there is no hard evidence Iran has decided to build a nuclear bomb.
Citing unnamed US officials, the newspaper said the latest assessments by US spy agencies are broadly consistent with a 2007 intelligence finding that concluded that Iran had abandoned its nuclear weapons program.
The officials said that assessment was largely reaffirmed in a 2010 National Intelligence Estimate, and that it remains the consensus view of America's 16 intelligence agencies, the report said.
The Times said there was no dispute among American, Israeli and European intelligence officials that Iran had been enriching nuclear fuel and developing some necessary infrastructure to become a nuclear power.
But the Central Intelligence Agency and other intelligence agencies believe that Iran has yet to decide whether to resume a parallel program to design a nuclear warhead -- a program they believe was essentially halted in 2003, the paper noted.
Iran has also "placed in position" 2,088 empty centrifuge casings at Fordo, which Iran kept secret until September 2009, and all the piping had been installed, Friday's IAEA report said.
Experts say that once up and running, Fordo, under a mountain near the holy city of Qom, could slash the time needed to convert Iran's stockpile of low-enriched uranium to 90 percent -- if it took the decision to do so.
The centrifuges installed so far at Fordo are older-generation models, however, which experts say could be converted to enrich to 90 percent, but which would do the work more slowly than more state-of-the-art models.
The IAEA said Iran also failed to explain properly what happened to around 20 kilos of uranium metal that the agency says are unaccounted for and which it suspects could have been used in weapons work.
"The discrepancy remains to be clarified," it said.
Diplomats to the Vienna-based IAEA are discussing what action the 35-member IAEA board will take at its next regular meeting from March 5.
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