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Alarmed West dismisses Iran nuclear "charm offensive"

Sep 14, 2011, 6:27 a.m.

By Fredrik Dahl

VIENNA (Reuters) - Western powers said on Wednesday there was growing evidence suggesting Iran was working to develop a nuclear missile and a recent "charm offensive" by Tehran failed to address those fears.

Statements by Britain, Germany, France and the United States at a board meeting of the U.N. nuclear watchdog made clear they were not impressed with an Iranian effort to show increased openness about its disputed atomic activities.

"Iran continues to casually dismiss the international community's concerns," Glyn Davies, the U.S. envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency, said.

"Stonewalling the IAEA, flouting U.N. Security Council obligations and mounting this most recent charm offensive do not reflect a good faith effort to resolve those concerns."

In a hard-hitting joint statement, European Union heavyweights Britain, France and Germany said Iran's nuclear program was "advancing in an extremely concerning direction."

Like the United States, they voiced particular alarm at Iran's decision to move higher-grade uranium enrichment to an underground bunker -- heightening their suspicions of its aims.

"The absence of a plausible economic or commercial rationale for so many of the nuclear activities now being carried out in Iran, and the growing body of evidence of a military dimension to these activities give grounds for grave concern about Iran's intentions," British Ambassador Simon Smith said on behalf of London, Berlin and Paris.

Davies said current IAEA monitoring of Iranian nuclear sites might provide some warning should Iran decide to "break out" and use its enriched uranium stockpile to develop nuclear bomb capability, but "that will come too late."

Together with China and Russia, the four Western states make up the six powers which have long sought -- so far in vain -- to find a diplomatic solution to a dispute that has the potential to spark a wider conflict in the Middle East.

Iran denies Western accusations its program is aimed at developing a nuclear weapons capability.

But its refusal to suspend enrichment, clarify foreign intelligence reports pointing to possible atom bomb research and grant unfettered access for IAEA inspectors has drawn tightening U.N. and Western sanctions against the major oil producer.

Uranium enriched to a low level of fissile purity is suitable for running civilian nuclear power plants. If refined to a much higher degree, it can form the core of nuclear bombs.

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The IAEA has added independent pressure on Iran, with its director, Yukiya Amano, saying publicly for the first time this week that he was "increasingly concerned" about possible military aspects of Iran's nuclear program.

Amano also said he planned to present soon the basis for those concerns in more detail to member states, a step that could provide stronger arguments for Western punitive measures.

Vienna-based diplomats say this may be why Iran -- which says its nuclear work is aimed at producing electricity -- is now showing more willingness to engage with the U.N. body.

In August, Iran allowed a senior IAEA inspector access to two nuclear-related sites in the country that the U.N. agency had not had access to for several years, saying this showed Tehran's "100 percent transparency and openness."

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