IRAN, IAEA AND PAKISTAN IN A NEW CONTROVERSY

ISLAMABAD, 26 Feb (IPS) As controversy over Iranian nuclear activities grows, with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) accusing again the Islamic Republic of having failed to inform the United Nations about its ongoing programs, Pakistan said it would not hand over its scientists to the International nuclear watchdog.

"Not being a signatory to the non-proliferation treaty (NPT), Pakistan is not bound to tell the IAEA about all its nuclear activities, Islamabad’s Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Mas’ood Khan told reporters concerning the alleged transfer of nuclear-related technology to Iran, including parts for enriching uranium by professor Abdol Qadeer Khan, the "father" of Pakistan’s atomic bomb.

On Tuesday, the Vienna-based IAEA said that Iran had not told the Agency that it had designs for sophisticated "P-2" centrifuges for enriching uranium or that it had produced polonium-210, an element that could be used as a "neutron initiator (to start the chain reaction) in some designs of nuclear weapons.

Late last October, Iran agreed with Britain, France and Germany that it would open all its nuclear installations to unrestricted inspections by international experts and suspend uranium-enriching activities.

Masood Khan’s Iranian counterpart, Hamid Reza Asefi said Iran had done research in the past on polonium but stopped 13 years ago. "The report by the IAEA was nothing new", he was quoted by journalists in Tehran.

IAEA Egyptian Chief Mohamed ElBarade’i told reporters Tuesday on a flight from Tripoli to Vienna: "I hope this will be the last time that any aspect of the program has not been declared to us".

The report is to be reviewed when the IAEA's 35-nation board of governors meets March 8 to rule on Iran's cooperation.

Kenneth Brill, U.S. envoy to the IAEA, said the report showed that Iran failed to fully disclose its nuclear activities, as required to, in its October declaration to IAEA.

"The continuing pattern of Iranian deception and delayed admissions about its nuclear activities, as well as specific information in the IAEA report, strengthens our assessment that Iran's nuclear program is not consistent with its stated purpose, but is clearly geared toward the development of nuclear weapons", he said.

But Iran’s main negotiator with the IAEA, Hojjatoleslam Hasan Rohani said the Islamic Republic replied was only working on the design of a P-2 centrifuge, according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency.

"We have other research projects that we haven't declared to the IAEA and we don't consider it necessary to announce it to the agency, either", added Mr. Rohani, who is also the Secretary of Iran’s Supreme Council for National Security, hinting also that Iran might resume uranium enrichment if the world fails to respond to Tehran's suspension of the process.

"Uranium enrichment suspension by Iran was voluntary, and only for the purpose of building confidence", he said, adding: "We have set no timing for the end of suspension ... One day uranium enrichment will be resumed".

In another development, Mr. Khan described as "wild speculation" earlier reports by Pakistani newspapers that Mr. Khalid, the son of Ayman al-Zawahri, Osama Ben Laden’s right hand man had been arrested in the ongoing military operations in Wana, Waziristan, near the Afghan borders.

According to the Jang daily, Khalid al-Zawahiri was arrested in an operation against al-Qa’eda suspects in South Waziristan and was handed over to US custody soon after the arrest and flown out of Pakistan.

But Islamabad refused to confirm the information, stating that it was not possible to give any information about the foreigners arrested during the operation because suspected terrorists might still be hiding in the area.

"The operation to flush out Al Qa’eda militants from Pakistan's territory has not yet ended, although the crackdown in the western border town is over for the time being", Mr. Mas’ood Khan, Pakistan’s Foreign Affairs Ministry senior spokesman said, adding that investigations were still going on to determine nationality and antecedents of the arrested people.

Speaking to reporters, Mr. Khan said the objective of the operation was to "locate and neutralize" any terrorists in the tribal areas and would continue till they were "flushed out and eliminated".

The large-scale operation, involving specially trained men and helicopters are aimed priority at capturing Mr. Ben Laden and several of his men, believed to be hiding in the region, dominated by tribes supporting both the Taleban and al-Qa’eda, the organisation that carried out the 11 September attacks on New York and Washington.

But experts and specialists said given the publicity about the operations, it would be "surprising" if any of top commanders of the Taleban that ruled over Afghanistan before the military invasion of the country by American forces on November 2001 or the al-Qa’eda are captured.

On Tuesday, General Shaukat Sultan, the Army’s official spokesman announced the capture of some twenty "suspects including foreigners" in the village of Azam Warzak, near Wana, the capital city of Southern Waziristan, where four fomer jihadi commanders who fought the Soviet Union, namely Naik Mohammad, Mohammad Sharif, Maulavi Abbas and Noor al-Islam are supposed to live.

According to the Army, Mr. Naik Mohammad is suspected to be behind the escape of most of the al-Qa’eda men during American massive bombardment of Tora Bora Mountains in Afghanistan, where Ben Laden and his close aides, including Dr. al-Zavahiri were supposed to have taken refuge.

Pakistani and Western sources in Islamabad say President Perviz Musharraf decided the operations under new pressures from Washington, ahead of planned "spring offensive" by American forces in southern Afghanistan to "eradicate" the last bastions of the Taleban, mostly fighters of Mr. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a former CIA informant and Afghan Prime Minister who joined hands with Mollah Mohammad Omar, the Taleban’s Chief and Ben Laden.

At the same time, the President General is also under immense pressures from Pakistan’s influential and powerful Muslim parties and senior religious leaders who have tremendous followers among soldiers, officers and even high-ranking commanders, the sources pointed out.

Confirming that a few foreign women were among those arrested during the operation, an ISPR spokesman said that apprehended women were dealt through women police and the jirga (city council of the elders) and they were accorded due respect and had been kept in safe custody.

Commenting on reports regarding demolition of houses of those providing refuge to the "foreigners", the spokesman said it was a local custom that houses of people who provided shelter to foreign elements or involved in anti-state activities, were demolished. ENDS ANTI QAEDA OPERATIONS 26204