Iran Inspections Begin Amid Nuclear Cover-up Claims
March 27, 2004
ABC News Online
United Nations (UN) nuclear inspectors are due to arrive in Iran on Saturday for a crucial mission to discover whether the Islamic republic is secretly developing atomic weapons, as the US accuses it of doing.
Iran had tried to put off the mission earlier this month after the UN's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), condemned it for continuing to hide sensitive nuclear activities.
But Iran yielded and allowed the visit after a delay of two weeks, following international outcry against it for failing to cooperate with the atomic agency.
The UN team will focus its inspections on the Natanz uranium enrichment plant and the Isfahan nuclear technology centre.
The Natanz plant is one of two sites where IAEA inspectors have discovered traces of highly enriched uranium.
This substance can be used in civilian nuclear reactors to generate electricity but it can also be used as raw material for a nuclear bomb.
Isfahan is a nuclear technology centre with a uranium conversion facility.
A diplomat close to the IAEA said this week the inspection visit was "routine, nothing spectacular".
He said the IAEA would not - on this trip - be verifying Iran's pledge to suspend uranium enrichment.
Iran promised in February to halt not just enriching uranium but all related activities, such as building centrifuges.
IAEA director general Mohamed El Baradei has said that move is crucial if Iran is to convince the world it is cooperating fully with the UN watchdog and honouring its nuclear non-proliferation commitments.
Mr El Baradei has also said another UN team may go to Iran in April for a more aggressive inspection.
Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times reports that a committee of senior Iranian officials is overseeing efforts to conceal important elements of the country's nuclear program from international inspectors, citing Western diplomats and an intelligence report.
The diplomats told the paper Iran set up the committee late last year to coordinate the concealment efforts after inspectors found evidence it had tried to hide elements of its nuclear program, including research on advanced centrifuges that could produce weapons-grade uranium.
The newspaper quotes a diplomat, speaking anonymously, as saying the committee's work includes trying to hide nuclear evidence at almost 300 locations.
The committee is said to include senior officials of Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation who report to high-level government officials.
Pirooz Hosseini, Iran's ambassador to the IAEA, told the newspaper that charges of a cover-up are "totally baseless".
"We have adopted a policy of full transparency, and we have declared all of our nuclear activities to the IAEA." http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/s1075273.htm