Iran May Be Seeking Nuclear Warhead, UN Watchdog Says

The United Nations’ nuclear watchdog said Thursday that there are signs Iran is trying to develop a nuclear warhead that would fit atop a missile, its bluntest assertion to date questioning Tehran’s claims to have an exclusively peaceful nuclear program.

In a report on Iran’s nuclear activities, the International Atomic Energy Agency said it has collected “broadly consistent and credible information” about Iran’s suspected military nuclear research. “Altogether, this raises concerns about the possible existence in Iran of past or current undisclosed activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile,” it said.

The information in question comes from European, U.S. and Israeli intelligence agencies, and concerns research Iranian scientists are thought to have done on fabricating and detonating a nuclear warhead that would fit atop a ballistic missile.

The intelligence has been cited in previous media reports, but this is the first time that it has been presented in such a fashion in the Vienna-based IAEA’s reports. It suggests a hardening of the agency’s stance on Iran under its new director general, Japanese diplomat Yukiya Amano.

The report was issued amid heightened tensions over Iran’s nuclear work. Iran said last week it had enriched uranium to a new level of purity, nearly 20 percent. The Obama administration is seeking tougher U.N. sanctions on Iran, which Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Monday is sliding toward “military dictatorship.”

The report says that Iran provided the IAEA with scientific evidence indicating that it enriched uranium to 19.8 purity between February 9 and February 11. That is well beyond Iran’s previous enrichment efforts, although still short of the roughly 90 percent pure uranium needed to fuel a nuclear weapon.