* U.N. watchdog sets up team to handle Iran investigation
* May be attempt to strengthen focus on Iran's nuclear
* IAEA report to show enrichment centrifuge expansion -
* Iran denies nuclear weapons aims
By Fredrik Dahl
VIENNA, Aug 29 The U.N. nuclear watchdog is
establishing a specialised team to inspect and investigate
Iran's nuclear programme, which diplomats say is expanding
despite tough Western sanctions and the threat of an Israeli
The U.N. agency announced the establishment of an Iran Task
Force shortly before it is expected to issue a report showing
that the Islamic state has installed more than 300 new uranium
enrichment machines in a fortified underground facility.
Its latest report on Iran's nuclear work, due to be released
on Thursday or Friday, also is likely to highlight deep concern
about suspected efforts to remove any evidence of illicit atomic
activity at an Iranian military complex, diplomats say.
The statement on concentrating the agency's Iran experts
in a dedicated team, seen by Reuters, was made separately to
staff on Wednesday. Previously, the Iran dossier was handled by
a department that also was responsible for other countries.
The findings in the upcoming International Atomic Energy
Agency (IAEA) report on Iran's nuclear programme may strengthen
the Israeli belief that diplomatic and economic pressure is
failing to make Iran curb its disputed atomic activities.
Bellicose rhetoric from some Israeli politicians has fanned
speculation that Israel might hit Iran's nuclear sites before
the November U.S. presidential vote. Washington has said there
is still time for diplomatic pressure to work, but it could be
drawn into any war between the two Middle East foes.
Iran denies allegations it seeks a nuclear weapons
capability and says all its atom work is for peaceful purposes.
The IAEA report "will be seized upon by those who argue that
Israel can't afford to wait before taking unilateral military
action to stop Iran", said Mark Fitzpatrick of the International
Institute for Strategic Studies in London.
Diplomats say the IAEA is expected to say that Iran has
completed installation of two additional cascades - linked
networks of 174 enrichment centrifuges each - at the Fordow site
buried deep in a mountain, since its previous report in May.
IRAN TASK FORCE
While the new machines are not yet operating, the move
reaffirmed Iranian defiance of international demands to suspend
enrichment, which can have both civilian and military uses
depending on refinement level.
The IAEA and Iran failed on Friday to strike a deal aimed at
allaying concerns about Tehran's nuclear programme by unblocking
an agency probe into suspected nuclear weapons research.
Iran's refusal to limit and open up its atomic activity to
unfettered IAEA inspections that could determine whether it is
purely peaceful, or not, has led to harsher punitive sanctions
and increased talk about possible military action.
Citing satellite images, diplomats say Iran has been
"sanitising" a military facility, Parchin, where the IAEA
believes it has carried out explosives tests relevant for
nuclear weapons development.
"Iran is in the final stages of cleansing the site," one
Western envoy said, casting doubt on whether IAEA inspectors
would find anything even if they were allowed to go there.
Iran says Parchin, southeast of the capital Tehran, is a
conventional military facility and has dismissed the allegations
about it as "childish."
An IAEA report showing that Iran has not cooperated in
resolving outstanding issues and has added centrifuges at Fordow
would "heighten Israel's already acute concern the IAEA can't
assure the world that Iran's nuclear program is peaceful," said
Mark Hibbs of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
The IAEA's decision to form a Task Force on the Islamic
state appeared to be an attempt to focus and streamline its
handling of the sensitive file by setting up one single unit
with Iran experts and other resources it already has.
The brief IAEA statement to staff said the Iran Task Force
would be part of the agency's department of safeguards, which
carries out inspections around the world to make sure nuclear
material is not diverted for military purposes.
The move underlined that the IAEA is prioritising its Iran
investigation. "The agency had the resources and people in place
and now they are trying to make sure the appropriate structure
is there to continue to support them," a Western diplomat said.