The Obama administration wants the International Atomic Energy Agency to make public data said to demonstrate Iran's efforts to develop a nuclear-weapon capability, The New York Times reported over the weekend.
The release of classified material on Iran's design and research activities would be likely to bring fresh urgency to consideration of the measures Washington and partner governments need to take to end Tehran's alleged military nuclear program, according to the newspaper. The Middle Eastern state says its atomic activities are entirely peaceful in nature.
The United States is already looking for additional opportunities to penalize Iran over a reported plot to kill Saudi Arabia's ambassador to Washington. The case led the administration to step up efforts to persuade the U.N. nuclear watchdog to make the data on Iran public.
Insider sources said the material does not absolutely prove Tehran is building a nuclear weapon, but shows efforts to develop systems needed to blueprint and set off a bomb. The information reportedly encompasses the requirements for processing weapon-grade uranium, producing missile nose cones, preparing explosives for igniting an atomic explosion and other sensitive matters.
"The United States believes that a comprehensive assessment would be invaluable for the international community in its consideration of Iran's nuclear program and what to do about it," National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said on Saturday.
Tehran has said the papers in question are fakes.
The Middle Eastern state last year began generating 20 percent-enriched uranium, enabling it to potentially more quickly produce nuclear-weapon material, which must be refined to roughly 90 percent. Tehran, which insists the uranium is intended to fuel a medical research reactor, in June announced plans to move production of the material to a new site and to boost output by threefold.
"They sought to hide their enrichment activity for years, and their covert facility at Qum, which the president revealed in 2009," a source close to President Obama told The Times. "They continue to enrich at 20 percent, and their rationale for doing so is demonstrably false."
The International Atomic Energy Agency is preparing its next safeguards report on Iran, which is expected to be released before the IAEA governing board meets on Nov. 17 and 18, Reuters reported.
"The indications right now are that it will be a very strong report offering a good amount of detail on possible military dimensions" of Iran's nuclear program, according to a diplomat from a Western nation.
The board has the authority to send the case back to the U.N. Security Council, which has already issued four sets of sanctions aimed at curbing Iran's atomic efforts.
Sources, though, questioned whether IAEA chief Yukiya Amano would issue a concrete statement on Iran that would be akin to a May report in which he said a Syrian site destroyed in a 2007 Israeli airstrike had "very likely" housed an illicit nuclear reactor.
"To come to a Syria-type conclusion is going to be difficult," according to one unidentified issue specialist.
Amano is "on the horns of a dilemma" regarding the upcoming document, said Ali Vaez of the Federation of American Scientists.
"If he publishes classified documents of a member state, in the absence of a smoking gun, he could undermine the agency's credibility," Vaez said, according to Reuters. "If he simply lists a few issues of concern without hard evidence, Iran could reject the allegations out of hand and further reduce its cooperation with the agency."
In his last report, Amano indicated he was "increasingly concerned" about the "possible military dimension" of nuclear operations in Iran, Agence France-Presse reported.
"Iran is escalating, I believe, its nuclear development. Iran is increasingly hostile,” Senate Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., told Fox News Sunday. “It’s a very dangerous situation.”
“If you project out a number of years, we are on a collision course. If we want to avoid it, we have to take action to avoid it,” AFP quoted her as saying.