An Iranian flag flutters in front of the UN headquarters in Vienna...An Iranian flag flutters in front of the United Nations headquarters in Vienna June 17, 2014. Six world powers and Iran began their fifth round of nuclear negotiations on Tuesday in hopes of salvaging prospects for a deal over Tehran's disputed atomic activity by a July deadline. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader (AUSTRIA - Tags: POLITICS ENERGY)
An Iranian flag outside the Vienna nuclear talks last year

Iran had a “co-ordinated” effort to develop technologies needed to make a nuclear bomb before 2003, the UN atomic agency said on Wednesday, but the research did not go beyond preliminary stages.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said that some limited research into nuclear weapons continued after 2003 but that there was no indication of any activity after 2009.

The conclusions were part of a long-awaited IAEA report into Iran’s past efforts to develop a nuclear weapon, which was one of the most controversial issues in the international negotiations that led to the July nuclear agreement with Iran.

The US welcomed the publication of the report, saying it would close the issue of Iran’s past weapons activities and allow the implementation of the July accord, which includes the lifting of some sanctions on Iran. The report’s conclusions are in line with longstanding US intelligence assessment that Iran did have a weapons research programme at one stage.

However, given Iran’s repeated denials about conducting any weapons research and given that the IAEA said Iran did not provide a full accounting on some of the questions it raised, the report is likely to spark renewed criticism from sections of the US Congress, where there is still strong opposition to the lifting of sanctions on Iran.

IAEA inspectors announced in 2011 that they had “credible” information to show that Iran had done research into nuclear weapons technologies — one of the revelations about Iran’s nuclear programme that helped build international support for a broad sanctions regime against the country.

A US intelligence assessment in 2007 concluded that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons programme in 2003, but that Tehran was still keeping its options open.

The new IAEA report says that the work done by Iran before 2003 was largely “feasibility and scientific studies and the acquisition of certain relevant technical competencies”. There was no evidence of any work done after 2009, it said.

Much of the controversy over the probe into Iranian research has centred on the Parchin military complex, where Iran allegedly built a large chamber to study aspects of a nuclear explosion and where it has been accused of trying to cover up the evidence. The IAEA said that it was difficult to verify what took place at the site because of “extensive activities” Iran had done there since 2012.

Mark Toner, a state department spokesman, said that the US and the other major powers involved in the Iran talks would now propose a resolution to the IAEA’s board to close the issue of Iran’s past weapons research. That would be one of the important steps in meeting the terms of the July deal, which could be fully implemented by early next year.

He said that Iran had co-operated adequately with the IAEA investigation and that the monitoring procedures under the July agreement provided “assurance that these types of past activities cannot occur again”.

Iran has pushed hard for the report to be the final word on its past weapons research. Abbas Araqchi, deputy foreign minister, said on Wednesday that “all measures over the past issues have completely concluded”.

David Albright at the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security said the report broke little new ground given Iranian efforts to deceive inspectors.

“The truth of Iran’s work on nuclear weapons is probably far more extensive than outlined by the IAEA in this report,” he said in a statement. “The bottom line is that the IAEA’s investigation into the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear programs . . . cannot be closed.”

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