Diplomats in Vienna said Friday that U.N. inspectors have found traces of highly enriched uranium in Iran, deepening international concern that Tehran is seeking to build nuclear weapons.
A leaked report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) says the uranium traces show a very high level of enrichment. The diplomats, who spoke on condition of anonymity about the confidential report, say the samples are from equipment at the former Lavizan Shiyan research center in Tehran. That center, which was linked to Iran's defense ministry, was dismantled in 2004 before U.N. inspectors could examine it.
In Washington, U.S. State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said he had seen news reports about the discovery, but could not confirm it. He said whatever the International Atomic Energy Agency has found during its investigations in Iran would be in their next public report due in mid-June.
Spokesman McCormack said he would not jump to any conclusions, but if the reports are true, they are troubling.
"If that highly enriched uranium was from an Iranian source, it raises serious questions about what was in fact going on at Lavizan," he said.
Some diplomats in Vienna said further analysis of the samples could show that they match other samples established to have come from equipment Iran purchased abroad. The IAEA earlier determined that traces of highly enriched uranium were imported on equipment Iran bought on the black market from Pakistan.
But Spokesman McCormack said regardless of the source of the highly enriched uranium, it is something the Iranians had not previously disclosed.
"At a minimum, what this would tell you is that they [Iran] have not been straight with the IAEA, once again, about what they were doing at this one site," he added.
In Tehran, a government spokesman dismissed the reports. Iran has repeatedly insisted that its nuclear ambitions are strictly for peaceful purposes.
In other developments, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan called Friday for the United States to, in his words, "come to the table" and join the Europeans in direct talks with the Iranians.
Spokesman McCormack said he believes the United States is presently on the "right course," working closely with the Europeans, and despite its absence at the negotiating table is "deeply involved" in the process.