UN asked to show Iran nuclear data
WASHINGTON - President Obama is pressing UN nuclear inspectors to release classified intelligence showing that Iran is designing and experimenting with nuclear weapons technology. The president’s push is part of a larger US effort to isolate and increase pressure on Iran after accusing it of plotting to kill Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States.
If the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN nuclear watchdog group, agrees to publicize the evidence, including new data it has gathered in recent months, it would almost certainly revive a debate that has been dormant during this year’s Arab Spring about how aggressively the United States and its allies, including Israel, should act to halt Iran’s suspected weapons program.
During the longer term, several senior Obama administration officials said in interviews, they are also considering banning financial transactions with Iran’s central bank - a major step opposed by Germany, China, and others - and expanding a ban on the purchase of petroleum products sold by companies controlled by the country’s elite military force, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.
The Revolutionary Guards are also believed to oversee the military side of the nuclear program, and it is the parent of the Quds Force, which Washington has accused of directing the assassination plot.
The proposed sanctions come as the United States confronts skepticism around the world about its allegations that Iran was behind the plot and limited options about what it can do - as well as growing pressure from Republicans and some Democrats in Congress to take tougher action against Iran, with the central bank and the oil industry high on lawmakers’ lists.
All of the proposed sanctions carry with them considerable political and economic risks. While Yukiya Amano, the cautious director general of the atomic energy agency, talked publicly in September about publishing some of the most delicate data suggesting Iran worked on nuclear triggers and warheads, officials who have spoken with him say he is concerned that his inspectors could be ejected from Iran, shutting the best, if narrow, window into its nuclear activities.
Similarly, China and Russia, among other major Iranian trading partners, have resisted further oil and financial sanctions, saying the goal of isolating Iran is a poor strategy. Even inside the Obama administration, some officials say they fear any crackdown on Iranian oil exports could drive up oil prices when US and European economies are weak. As one senior official put it, “You don’t want to tip the US into a downturn just to punish the Iranians.’’
Iran has declared that all of the documents suggesting work on how to create a weapon that could fit atop an Iranian missile are “fabrications’’ designed to justify an attack. The country has already been the target of covert attacks, including the assassinations of some nuclear scientists and a computer worm, called Stuxnet, that disabled some of Iran’s nuclear centrifuges.
The last time the atomic energy agency made any evidence public was in early 2008, in a closed presentation to member countries that immediately leaked. That presentation came soon after US intelligence agencies circulated a National Intelligence Estimate that declared Iran had worked extensively on warhead technology until late 2003, when the activity halted.