VIENNA — The U.N. nuclear agency has created a special Iran Task Force of nuclear weapons experts, intelligence analysts and other specialists focused on probing allegations that Tehran has been – or is – secretly working on developing atomic arms, according to an internal document shared with The Associated Press.
The announcement from the International Atomic Energy Agency says the elite squad started work Aug. 10. Dated Wednesday, the International Atomic Energy Agency statement says the unit will concentrate on implementing IAEA agreements with Iran, allowing it to monitor its nuclear activities as mandated by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
It also says it will focus on "relevant" IAEA and U.N Security Council resolutions on Iran. Both have demanded that Tehran stop activities that could be used to make nuclear weapons and cooperate with the agency's investigation of suspicions Tehran worked on nuclear weapons.
But while drawing together its best experts, the new task force will have no more power regarding inspections of Iran's known or suspected nuclear sites than previous IAEA inspectors did.
Agency attempts to visit a site at Iran's Parchin military complex southeast of Tehran have documented IAEA limitations. For months, satellite images have recorded what the International Atomic Energy Agency suspects is an attempt to sanitize the site of suspected work on explosive charges used to detonate a warhead. At the same time, Iran has repeatedly rebuffed agency efforts for access – including last Friday.
The most recent satellite images now show what diplomats last week said appears to be pink material shrouding buildings apparently linked to the alleged experiments, effectively blinding agency attempts to monitor a site that they have been kept from visiting. The diplomats demanded anonymity because they were not authorized to comment on the IAEA's Iran investigation.
Iran says such allegations are based on evidence fabricated by the United States and Israel and insists its nuclear program is meant only for making reactor fuel, medical isotopes and peaceful research. But it refuses to give up uranium enrichment, which can produce both reactor fuel and the core of nuclear warheads, despite offers of fuel from abroad. And it has stonewalled an IAEA probe into its alleged weapons work for more than four years, increasing concerns that it has something to hide.
Creating a unit focused on only one country is an unusual move for the IAEA, reflecting the urgency the U.N. nuclear watchdog is attaching to Iran amid fears that it is moving closer to the ability to make nuclear weapons, despite its denial. With diplomatic efforts to engage Tehran on its nuclear activities stalemated – and Israel warning that it will not tolerate an Iran armed with atomic arms – concerns are growing that time is running short to defuse tensions peacefully
Israel is particularly worried about a fortified bunker at Fordo, where Iran has begun producing uranium enriched to a level closer to the grade used in nuclear weapons than its main stockpile of fuel-grade material. About 70 kilometers (40 miles) south of Tehran, Fordo has about 800 centrifuges operating so far, enriching to a 20-percent level, and continues assembling others without operating them – diplomats say that close to 3,000 are now fully or partially screwed together, including hundreds over the past three months
In Tehran, Iran's IAEA envoy, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, told reporters Tuesday that his country will "not suspend enrichment activities, even for a second."
Diplomats had told the AP last week that the IAEA was forming a special Iran team. The announcement confirming that information was forwarded Wednesday by a diplomat who demanded anonymity because he was not authorized to share confidential and internal IAEA documents. A phone call seeking comment from Soltanieh went to his voice mail.
Instead of focusing only one country, agency experts up to now have been tasked with following dozens of nations as they look for signs indicating secret attempts to make nuclear weapons.
Some IAEA officials feel that means that they often spend an inordinate amount of time monitoring countries that are unlikely to engage in such activities – Western European nations, for instance – meaning that not enough attention is paid to potential proliferators.
One of the diplomats who spoke to the AP last week said the Iran team will be comprised of about 20 experts drawn from the main IAEA pool.
The IAEA announcement said the squad will be headed by Massimo Aparo. A nuclear engineer, Aparo is an IAEA veteran who has held numerous senior positions linked to nonproliferation within and outside of the IAEA and was already in charge of the Iran file before the agency revamp.
The agency said he will be reporting to IAEA Deputy Director General Herman Nackaerts, the head of the agency's nuclear inspectors and the agency's point man on Iran.
Earlier on HuffPost:
Oct. 1, 2009
<em>Iran's top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili answers to a question during a press conference following talks between Iran and six world powers to discuss the Islamic republic's disputed atomic program on October 1, 2009 in Geneva. (FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)</em><br><br>Iran meets six world powers in Geneva and approves in principle a plan to send 75 percent of its low-enriched uranium to Russia and France, where it would be made into special fuel for a Tehran reactor making medical materials.
Oct. 25, 2009
<em>International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors arrive at Imam Khomeini airport in Tehran early on October 25, 2009. Four inspectors of the UN International Atomic Energy Agency arrived in Tehran to check Iran's controversial second uranium enrichment plant. (BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images)</em><br><br> U.N. nuclear experts inspect a newly disclosed enrichment plant being built inside a mountain bunker.
Oct. 30, 2009
<em>Herman M.G. Nackaerts, who led the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors team to Iran, speaks to journalists upon his arrival on October 29, 2009 at Vienna airport from Iran. (SAMUEL KUBANI/AFP/Getty Images)</em><br><br>Iran tells the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) it wants fresh nuclear fuel for a reactor in Tehran before it will agree to ship enriched uranium stocks to Russia and France, according to U.N. officials.
Nov. 18, 2009
<em>A picture shows the reactor building at the Russian-built Bushehr nuclear power plant in southern Iran on August 21, 2010 during a ceremony initiating the transfer of Russia-supplied fuel to the facility after more than three decades of delay. (ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images)</em><br><br>Tehran says will not send enriched uranium abroad but will consider swapping it for nuclear fuel within Iran.
Nov. 27, 2009
<em>A file satellite image taken Sunday Sept. 27, 2009, provided by DigitalGlobe, shows a suspected nuclear enrichment facility under construction inside a mountain located north of Qom, Iran. (AP Photo/DigitalGlobe, File)</em><br><br>The IAEA's 35-nation governing board censures Iran for developing the Fordow plant near Qom in secret and demands Iran freeze the project. Iran rejects the demand.
Jan. 19, 2010
<em>Iran's chief negotiator Saeed Jalili looks on during a press conference closing nuclear talks on December 7, 2010 in Geneva. (FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)</em><br><br>Iran rejects key parts of the deal to send abroad for processing most of its enrichment material.
Feb. 9, 2010
<em>NATANZ, IRAN - APRIL 9: A general view of the Natanz nuclear enrichment facility, is seen on April 9, 2007, 180 miles south of Tehran, Iran. (Majid Saeedi/Getty Images)</em><br><br>Iran begins making higher-grade nuclear fuel, enriched to a level of 20 percent, at the Natanz plant.
Feb. 18, 2010
<em>Delegates watch the opening of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) board of governors meeting at agency headquarters in Vienna on September 27, 2010. (SAMUEL KUBANI/AFP/Getty Images)</em><br><br>An IAEA report suggests for the first time Iran might be actively chasing nuclear weapons capability rather than merely having done so in the past.
May 17, 2010
<em>Brazilian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Celso Amorim, gestures during a press conference at Itamaraty Palace in Brasilia, on May 18, 2010, on the nuclear agreement between Brazil, Iran and Turkey. (EVARISTO SA/AFP/Getty Images)</em><br><br>Iran, Brazil and Turkey sign a nuclear fuel swap deal. Iran says it has agreed to transfer low-enriched uranium to Turkey within a month in return for higher-enriched nuclear fuel for a medical research reactor. The deal is not implemented due to lack of U.S., French and Russian involvement.
June 9, 2010
<em>U.S. President Barack Obama arrives to make a statement regarding a United Nations Security Council vote on new sanctions for Iran in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House on June 9, 2010 in Washington, DC. (Roger L. Wollenberg-Pool/Getty Images)</em><br><br>U.N. Security Council votes to expand sanctions against Iran to undermine its banking and other industries.
June 24, 2010
<em>This photo shows a branch of Iranian Bank Tejarat in Tehran on January 24, 2012. (ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images)</em><br><br>U.S. Congress approves tough new unilateral sanctions aimed at squeezing Iran's energy and banking sectors.
July 26, 2010
<em>Former Iranian president and head of Iran's Assembly of Experts, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, delivers a speech during a meeting of the top clerical body in Tehran on September 14, 2010, urging Iranian officials against dismissing the sanctions as 'jokes', saying that the Islamic republic was facing its worst ever 'assault' from the global community. (ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images)</em><br><br>The EU imposes tighter sanctions on Iran.
Dec. 5, 2010
<em>Iran's Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi speaks to journalists after the Conference on Disarmament at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2012. Salehi has called for other countries to chose engagement over confrontation in resolving their differences over his nation's nuclear program. (AP Photo/Keystone, Jean-Christophe Bott)</em><br><br>Iran's nuclear energy chief Ali Akbar Salehi says Iran will use domestically produced uranium concentrates, known as yellowcake, for the first time at a nuclear facility, cutting reliance on imports of the ingredient for nuclear fuel.
Dec. 6, 2010
<em>Iran's chief negotiator Saeed Jalili (R) gestures next to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton in the foyer of the conference center near the Swiss mission to the United Nations on December 6, 2010 in Geneva. (ANJA NIEDRINGHAUS/AFP/Getty Images)</em><br><br>Talks begin in Geneva between Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who is leading the discussions on behalf of big powers.
Jan. 21, 2011
<em>US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks about Iran during a press conference with Bahraini Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa following their meeting at the US State Department in Washington, DC, February 3, 2010. (SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)</em><br><br>World powers fail to prise any change from Iran in talks, with the EU and U.S. calling the discussions disappointing and saying no further meetings are planned.
June 9, 2011
<em>Demonstrators hold effigies of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (L) and Iran's religiuous leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei during a protest outside the 66th UN General Assembly at the United Nations headquarters in New York, on September 22, 2011.</em><br><br>Russia and China join Western powers in telling Iran its "consistent failure" to comply with U.N. resolutions "deepened concerns" about possible military dimensions to its nuclear program.
Aug. 23, 2011
<em>International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief inspector Herman Nackaerts arrives with his team at the Vienna airport from Iran, on February 22, 2012. (DIETER NAGL/AFP/Getty Images)</em><br><br>Iran allows IAEA Deputy Director General Herman Nackaerts rare access to a facility for developing advanced uranium enrichment machines during a tour of the country's main atomic sites, an Iranian envoy says.
Sept. 3, 2011
<em>The head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization Fereydoun Abbasi Davani (2nd L) and Russian Energy Minister Sergei Shmatko (R) shake hands during a ceremony in the southern port city of Bushehr on September 12, 2011, to celebrate hooking up Iran's first nuclear power plant in Bushehr to the national grid, supplying 400 megawatts of its 1,000 megawatt capacity. (AMIR POURMAND/AFP/Getty Images)</em><br><br>Russian-built Bushehr nuclear power plant begins to provide electricity to the national grid, IRNA reports.
Jan. 9, 2012
<em>Alireza Jafarzadeh arranges satellite images and maps allegedly showing location of an industrial site near Tehran that produces components for centrifuges used to enrich uranium, before a press conference in Washington, DC, on April 7, 2011. (JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)</em><br><br>IAEA confirms Iran began refining uranium to a fissile purity of 20 percent at Fordow.
Feb. 15, 2012
<em>Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad unveils a sample of the third generation centrifuge for uranium enrichment during a ceremony to mark the National Nuclear Day day in Tehran on April 9, 2010. (BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images)</em><br><br>Iran proclaims nuclear advances, including new centrifuges able to enrich uranium much faster. The next day Iran proposes a resumption of nuclear talks with world powers.
Feb. 20-21, 2012
<em>Hans Blix(R), former general director of the United Nations (UN) International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Robert Kelley, former IAEA chief inspector in Iraq chat February 21, 2012 before a panel discussion on Iran's nuclear capabilities on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. (KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images)</em><br><br>Senior U.N. inspectors end a second round of talks in Tehran, without success and without inspecting a military site at Parchin.
March 5, 2012
<em>International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Yukiya Amano (C) looks on during an IAEA board of governors meeting at the UN atomic agency headquarters in Vienna on March 5, 2012. (DIETER NAGL/AFP/Getty Images)</em><br><br>Iran has tripled its monthly production of higher-grade enriched uranium and the IAEA has "serious concerns" about possible military dimensions to Tehran's activities, IAEA head Yukiya Amano says.
March 6, 2012
<em>European Union's Foreign Policy chief Catherine Ashton gives a press conference after a meeting on April 14, 2012 as Iran and six world powers open talks on Tehran's disputed nuclear programme in Istanbul. (BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)</em><br><br>EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton accepts Iran's offer of new talks, after a year's standstill. U.S. President Barack Obama says the announcement offers a diplomatic chance to defuse the crisis and quiet the "drums of war". Iran says it will let U.N. nuclear inspectors visit Parchin but diplomats note a proviso saying access to the site hinges on a broader agreement on outstanding issues.
April 10, 2012
<em>A sign shows gas prices over five dollars a gallon for all three grades at a EXXON service station on March 13, 2012 in Washington, DC. According to AAA the average price of gas has climbed three tenths of a cent nationwide as a result of high oil prices and tensions tied to Iran's nuclear program. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)</em><br><br>Iran cuts oil exports to Spain and may halt sales to Germany and Italy, state television reports, in an apparent move to strengthen its position ahead of crucial talks.
April 12, 2012
<em>Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad waits for the arrival of Iraqi Shiite Vice President Khudayr al-Khuzaie prior to a meeting in Tehran on March 10, 2012. (ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images)</em><br><br>Ahmadinejad says the Islamic state will not surrender its nuclear rights "even under the most difficult pressure".
April 14, 2012
<em>Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Said Jalili gives a press conference on April 14, 2012 as Iran and six world powers open talks on Tehran's disputed nuclear programme in Istanbul. (BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)</em><br><br>Talks between Iran and the United States, France, Germany, China, Russia and Britain resume in Istanbul. A diplomat describes the atmosphere at the opening session as "completely different" from that of previous meetings. Iran has promised to put forward "new initiatives".