- - Sunday, January 29, 2012


U.N. nuclear inspection gets under way in Iran

TEHRAN — U.N. nuclear inspectors began a critical mission to Iran on Sunday to probe allegations of a secret atomic weapons program amid escalating Western economic pressure and warnings about safeguarding Gulf oil shipments from possible Iranian blockades.

The findings from the three-day visit could greatly influence the direction and urgency of U.S.-led efforts to rein in Iran’s ability to enrich uranium - which Washington and allies fear could eventually produce weapons-grade material.

Iran has declined to abandon its enrichment labs but claims it only seeks to fuel reactors for energy and medical research.

The International Atomic Energy Agency team is likely to visit an underground enrichment site near the holy city of Qom, 80 miles south of Tehran, which is carved into a mountain as protection from possible airstrikes.

Earlier this month, Iran said it had begun enrichment work at the site, which is far smaller than the country’s main uranium labs but is reported to have more advanced equipment.

The U.N. nuclear agency delegation includes two senior weapons experts - Jacques Baute of France and Neville Whiting of South Africa - suggesting that Iran may be prepared to address some issues related to the allegations that it seeks nuclear warheads.

In unusually blunt comments ahead of his arrival, International Atomic Energy Agency Deputy Director General Herman Nackaerts - who is in charge of the agency’s Iran file - said he wants Tehran to “engage us on all concerns.”

Iran has refused to discuss the alleged weapons experiments for three years, saying they are based on “fabricated documents” provided by a “few arrogant countries” - a phrase authorities in Iran often use to refer to the United States and its allies.


Sunni-backed lawmakers end parliament ban

BAGHDAD — Iraq’s Sunni-backed political alliance ended a parliament boycott Sunday, officials said, but the bloc’s ministers will stay away from Cabinet meetings to protest arrests and prosecution of Sunni officials.

The decision underlines sectarian tensions in the Shiite-dominated government as violence surges just weeks after U.S. troops left the country.

The political crisis erupted last month after Iraq’s Shiite-led government issued an arrest warrant against the Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi on terrorism charges.

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