VIENNA (Reuters) - Iran may be the U.N. nuclear watchdog's biggest headache but it is not the only country stalling inspectors' requests for atomic-related information, a new IAEA report suggests.
Tasked with preventing the spread of nuclear bombs in the world, the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency inspects reactors and related sites globally to ensure that sensitive fissile material is not diverted for military purposes.
In 2012, several states "did not provide sufficient cooperation to clarify or resolve agency questions," said the IAEA's annual report on nuclear safeguards implementation, which was discussed at a meeting of its 35-nation board this week.
For 71 of 159 member states, the IAEA "was not able to get timely responses to agency requests for, or clarification of, safeguards relevant information," it said, without naming them.
Nuclear expert Mark Hibbs said he did not believe it was a question of grave violations of IAEA safeguards rules, or that any of these countries was engaging in covert nuclear activity with potential military intentions.
"But states are always trying to see what they can get away with" in carrying out atomic-related activities without intrusive inspections and added bureaucracy, said Hibbs, of the Carnegie Endowment think-tank.
Several countries did not provide design information about nuclear facilities or advance notification of nuclear material transfers, the IAEA report said.
Proliferation experts said that in terms of gravity, such cases should not be compared with Iran, which the West suspects of seeking the capability to make nuclear weapons.
Tehran says its nuclear programme is an entirely peaceful project to generate electricity.
The U.S. envoy to the IAEA, Joseph Macmanus, accused Iran at this week's board meeting of "repeatedly concealing information" from the Vienna-based U.N. agency and of a "pattern of non-compliance and non-cooperation."
Contrary to U.N. demands, the IAEA report said, Iran did not last year "suspend its enrichment related activities; suspend its heavy water-related activities; or address the agency's serious concerns about possible military dimensions" to its nuclear programme.
Refined uranium can fuel nuclear power plants, which Iran says is its sole intention, but can also provide nuclear bomb material if enriched to a high degree, which the West fears may be the Islamic state's ultimate aim.
(Reporting by Fredrik Dahl; Editing by Mark Heinrich)