|IAEA may raise issue of polonium production at talks with Iran||
TEHRAN – The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) says it wants Iran to clarify past production of small amounts of a rare radioactive material, Reuters reported on Monday.
The comment about polonium by UN nuclear agency chief Yukiya Amano at a weekend security conference in Munich suggested the issue may be raised at talks between his experts and Iranian officials on February 8.
It was not immediately clear why Amano would bring up polonium-210 now. The IAEA had said in a report as far back as 2008 it had discussed the substance and Iran had answered its questions about it.
Back then, it cited Iran as saying that some of its scientists had proposed a research project on the production of the material in the 1980s but that the chemist working on it left the country before its completion and it was aborted.
The IAEA said in 2008 it had concluded that the Iranian explanations were consistent with its own findings. “The agency considers this question no longer outstanding at this stage.”
Robert Kelley, a former senior IAEA official, said the matter had been settled at the time and that it was a question of “minor experiments that weren’t part of any organized program.”
Mark Hibbs of the Carnegie Endowment think-tank said one possibility was that the IAEA had received new intelligence information regarding polonium-210. Hibbs said it had been his understanding that the issue was not seen as urgent and essential by the UN agency.
IAEA spokeswoman Gill Tudor said it was not a new issue, but an example of one “that the agency is keeping an eye on and that would benefit from further clarification.” Amano referred to it in response to an audience question, Tudor added.
An IAEA investigation into Iran’s nuclear activities is running in parallel with new measures in regard to the country’s nuclear program under a deal negotiated with world powers in November in return for limited easing of U.S. and European Union sanctions.
Often strained in the past, ties between Iran and the IAEA have improved since last year’s election of Hassan Rouhani as new Iranian president on a platform to improve Tehran’s international relations.
The IAEA’s investigation into Iran’s nuclear program is separate from, though still closely linked to, the more wide-ranging negotiations between Tehran and the six major states - the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany.
Under an agreement signed just weeks before the powers reached their own nuclear agreement with Iran, the UN agency has already visited a heavy water production plant and a uranium mine in Iran.
Western diplomats say the UN body’s investigation will be taken into account during talks, due to start on February 18, between Iran and the major powers to finalize a comprehensive nuclear deal.
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