UN Steps Up Iran Nuclear Probe Ahead of Deadline
Tue September 23, 2003
By Louis Charbonneau
VIENNA (Reuters) - The United Nations nuclear watchdog said on Tuesday it was stepping up inspections in Iran ahead of an October 31 deadline for Tehran to enable the U.N. to verify it has no secret atomic weapons program.
After strong lobbying by the United States for action, the governing board of the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on September 12 set the deadline and called on Tehran to suspend all uranium-enrichment activities.
Washington, which branded Iran a member of an "axis of evil" with North Korea and pre-war Iraq, believes Iran's enrichment plants may be used to purify uranium for use in a nuclear bomb.
Iran denies this allegation and insists its nuclear ambitions are limited to generating electricity.
IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said the agency would send teams of experts to Tehran on Friday for inspections and face-to-face talks with Iranian officials to clear up the IAEA's many outstanding questions about Iran's nuclear program.
"We have a detailed list of requirements covering all of the areas outlined in our reports (on Iran) -- including uranium conversion and uranium enrichment," Fleming said.
The IAEA recently found weapons-grade enriched uranium in Iran and is investigating Tehran's explanation that it came from contaminated machinery purchased abroad.
"October will be a period of very intensive inspections and talks in Iran," she said. "To do this, accelerated cooperation is essential and here the ball is in Iran's court."
Fleming said it was important that Iran gives the IAEA everything it needs to answer the agency's unanswered questions so that the November report to the IAEA board "fully addresses all of the outstanding issues and unanswered questions."
If the IAEA still has unanswered questions about Iran's nuclear program in November, diplomats said Washington and the European Union would push to report Tehran to the U.N. Security Council for violating its IAEA nuclear safeguards obligations.
The Security Council could impose economic sanctions.
Fleming said the agency had received no official word on comments by Iran's ambassador to the IAEA, Ali Akbar Salehi, who was quoted by Iranian state television as saying Tehran would cut cooperation with the U.N. to the minimum required under its IAEA Safeguards Agreement.
"We've just read about this in the media," she said. "We haven't heard anything that would stop us from moving forward with this important phase of our investigations." http://www.reuters.com/newsArticle.jhtml;jsessionid=5IONJKC1KGK5CCRBAE0CFFA?type=worldNews&storyID=3490903