Iran to accept tough nuclear inspections
Sat 8 November, 2003
By Louis Charbonneau
VIENNA (Reuters) - The head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency says Iran has promised to hand over two crucial letters making official its acceptance of tougher nuclear inspections and a suspension of its controversial uranium enrichment programme.
"Next week we will get the letter for conclusion of the Additional Protocol," International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Mohamed ElBaradei told reporters on Saturday after a more than 90 minute meeting in Vienna with the head of Iran's Supreme National Security, Hassan Rohani.
ElBaradei also said Iran had promised a letter formally announcing the uranium enrichment suspension next week.
When asked when the uranium enrichment will be stopped, Rohani said through an interpreter: "In the next week I will announce that."
Washington, which accuses Iran of covertly developing the capacity to build atomic weapons, branded Iran part of an "axis of evil" with North Korea and pre-war Iraq. Iran denies it wants an atomic weapon and insists its nuclear programme is peaceful.
Rohani's meeting with ElBaradei came days before the IAEA was expected to circulate among Vienna diplomats its latest report on nuclear inspections in Iran, a report ElBaradei said would detail more failures by Iran to report required information to the United Nations.
This report will be discussed at the November 20 meeting of the IAEA's 35-nation Board of Governors.
Asked about that report on Saturday, ElBaradei said "it is a factual report about what we have seen".
Iran promised to deliver a letter formally declaring its intention to sign the Additional Protocol to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which Iran has signed.
The protocol, created after the 1991 discovery of Iraq's secret atomic weapons programme, would give the IAEA the authority to conduct more intrusive, short-notice inspections of declared and undeclared sites to flush out any secret weapons-related activities.
Iran must give the IAEA the letter before the IAEA board meeting in order for the board to approve Tehran's intention to sign the protocol. Only then Iran can sign it.
Although it will take some time for Iran's parliament to ratify the protocol, Tehran has said it would allow the tougher inspections before ratification.
On October 21, Iranian officials told the foreign ministers of Germany, France and Britain that Tehran would not only sign the Additional Protocol but would temporarily stop enriching uranium as a confidence-building measure.
This had been requested of Iran in the IAEA board's tough September 12 resolution that set an October 31 deadline for Iran to give the IAEA a full declaration of all nuclear activities.
Enrichment is a process of purifying uranium to make it useable as nuclear fuel or in weapons.
But almost a week after the announced enrichment freeze, Iran admitted it had yet to take effect. One Western diplomat said the fact that Iran has not yet suspended its enrichment programme was a "very bad sign".
Diplomats told Reuters there had been disagreement with Iran on what constituted suspension. The French, Germans and British want all enrichment operations halted, whereas Iran wants only to halt its enrichment centrifuges and continue research work.
Rohani said on Saturday Tehran would abide by the deal reached with French, German and British foreign ministers.
Rohani was appointed by Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and was originally viewed as a hardliner. But he is increasingly seen as representing the middle ground between Khamenei and the reform-minded President Mohammad Khatami. http://www.reuters.co.uk/newsPackageArticle.jhtml?type=worldNews&storyID=400707§ion=news