By Mark Heinrich – Reuters September 15, 2006
U.N. inspectors have protested to the U.S. government and a congressional committee about a report on Iran's nuclear work, calling parts of it "outrageous and dishonest," according to a letter obtained by Reuters.
The letter recalled clashes between the IAEA and the Bush administration before the 2003 Iraq war over findings cited by Washington about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction that proved false, and underlined tensions over Iran's dossier.
Sent to Rep. Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, Republican chairman of the House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, by a senior aide to International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei, the letter said an Aug. 23 committee report contained serious distortions of IAEA findings on Iran's activity.
The letter said the errors suggested Iran's nuclear fuel program was much more advanced than a series of IAEA reports and Washington's own intelligence assessments had determined.
House committee spokesman Jamal Ware admitted a caption to a photo of the Natanz facility said incorrectly that Iran had produced weapons-grade material. He dismissed the error, saying it was not part of the body of the report.
"There's nothing substantive here. They complain about a photo caption and the other things are issues we apparently disagree on," Ware said in Washington. "There are no errors in the report."
The committee will decide whether to respond to the IAEA letter, he said.
The 29-page report was authored by the staff of a panel subcommittee and was never discussed or voted on by the full 21-member House Intelligence Committee.
Rep. Jane Harman of California, the panel's senior Democrat, advised party colleagues in an e-mail the report employed "analytical shortcuts" that presented Iran as a more dire threat than it is, aides said.
The IAEA letter said the agency secretariat took "strong exception to the incorrect and misleading assertion" that the IAEA opted to remove a senior safeguards inspector for supposedly concluding the purpose of Iran's program was to build weapons.
The congressional report contained "an outrageous and dishonest suggestion" the inspector was dumped for having not adhered to an alleged IAEA policy barring its "officials from telling the whole truth" about Iran, said the letter.
Diplomats say the inspector remains IAEA Iran section head.
Ware said report findings were based on discussions among committee staff and a variety of sources including IAEA staff members.
"This isn't erroneous. Our staff heard there was pressure to remove him because of concern about statements he made publicly about Iran's pursuit of weapons," he said.
The IAEA has been inspecting Iran's nuclear program since 2003. Although it has found no hard evidence Iran is working on atomic weapons, it has uncovered many activities linked to uranium enrichment, a process of purifying fuel for nuclear power plants or weapons.
Diplomats say Washington, spearheading efforts to isolate Iran with sanctions over its nuclear work, has long perceived ElBaradei to be "soft" on Tehran.
(Additional reporting by David Morgan in Washington)
Last updated 16/09/2006