Iran Offers IAEA Secret Atomic Info

By GEORGE JAHN, Associated Press Writer Thu Feb 23, 2:29 PM ET

NASSFELD, Austria - Iran has offered the International Atomic Energy Agency information on a secret uranium processing project that U.S. intelligence has linked to high explosives and warhead design, diplomats said Thursday.

The diplomats told The Associated Press that a team of IAEA experts was heading to Tehran on the weekend to follow up on the offer to discuss the "Green Salt Project."

The diplomats, who are based in Vienna and are familiar with the work of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, demanded anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the IAEA's probe of Tehran's nuclear program.

Public mention of the "Green Salt Project" first surfaced in an IAEA report drawn up earlier this month for a meeting of the agency's 35-nation board of governors that subsequently reported Tehran to the U.N. Security Council over concerns it could be hiding a nuclear weapons program.

Iran has denied wanting atomic weapons and a more than three-year IAEA probe has failed to produce evidence to the contrary. But the agency has come up with a series of findings, including experiments with plutonium and long-secret efforts to develop a uranium enrichment program — an activity that can produce both nuclear fuel or the fissile core for warheads.

The report voiced concern that under the "Green Salt Project," conversion of uranium — a precursor of enrichment — was linked to suspected tests of "high explosives and the design of a missile re-entry vehicle, all of which could have a military nuclear dimension."

Diplomats familiar with the report said the IAEA was basing its concerns on several pages of U.S. intelligence that was recently declassified and shared with agency officials so that they could confront the Iranians with it. Among the links, they said, was the participation of several officials on conversion, high explosives and warhead design work.

Uranium conversion is the chemical process that changes raw uranium into the gas fed into centrifuges and spun repeatedly to separate out fissile isotopes. Low enriched uranium can be used to make energy — which Iran insists is its only goal. But highly enriched uranium is used to make nuclear weapons. Iran already has converted tons of uranium but using a method that agency officials believe differ from the "Green Salt" program.

Iran's refusal to scrap domestic enrichment aggravated concerns about its nuclear intentions and contributed to the IAEA board's Feb. 4 decision to report it to the Security Council. The council — which could impose sanctions — is taking no action pending the results of negotiations between Iran and Russia on moving Tehran's enrichment program to Russia and the outcome of the next board meeting starting in Vienna March 6.