- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 21, 2003

TEHRAN — Iran agreed yesterday to suspend uranium enrichment and give inspectors unrestricted access to its nuclear facilities as demanded by the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency — a step that could ease the standoff over fears that Iran is trying to build nuclear weapons.

The announcement came after weeks of pressure on Iran to come clean by Oct. 31 on its nuclear program, which Washington thinks aims to build a nuclear arsenal. A senior Israeli adviser told The Washington Times yesterday that if the program was not stopped within 12 months, it would be too late.

The United States, which has led the charge for the U.N. Security Council to take action against Iran, gave a cautious welcome to the news from Tehran.

If Iran follows through with its promises, it “would be a positive step in the right direction,” White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said. “Full compliance by Iran will now be essential.”

Iran, which says its nuclear program aims only for electricity production, made the commitments as three European foreign ministers visited Tehran to press the demands by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Tehran did not say when it would take the steps, although a British official said it would likely be before Oct. 31.

Iran also agreed to hand over other information long sought by the IAEA, said diplomats in Vienna, Austria, where the agency is based. Most important, said the diplomats, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, Iran promised to account for the origin of traces of weapons-grade uranium that IAEA inspectors discovered at two facilities, sounding alarm bells in Vienna and Washington.

IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei has called those traces, found in environmental samples, the most troubling aspect of Iran’s nuclear activities.

Iran says the contamination was on equipment it imported for peaceful nuclear purposes, but it resisted IAEA requests that it name the country of origin. Once the agency knows where the equipment comes from, it can test the truth of Iran’s claims.

The head of Israel’s military intelligence warned yesterday that if Iran completes its program for enriching uranium, it would be able to produce nuclear weapons without outside help by summer 2004.

Zalman Shoval, a former ambassador to Washington and now an adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, gave a similar assessment at a meeting yesterday with reporters and editors at The Times.

“According to our intelligence assessment, unless something is done within the next year, a year from now it may be too late,” he said. “They will already have a nuclear capability.”

The United States has pushed fellow members of the IAEA board to declare Tehran in breach of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Anxious to avoid sanctions that the United Nations would likely bring, Iran has allowed IAEA inspectors to view some sites, including at least one military facility, but for weeks has hesitated at making a full commitment to the IAEA demands.

The secretary of Iran’s powerful Supreme National Security Council, Hasan Rowhani, told reporters after his meeting with the three Europeans yesterday that Iran would sign an additional protocol to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty allowing inspectors to enter any site without notice.

“The protocol should not threaten our national security, national interests and national pride,” he told reporters. In a statement, Iran said it would abide by the protocol even before it is ratified by parliament, as is required.

Mr. Rowhani said that for an “interim period,” Iran will suspend nuclear enrichment — though he did not say for how long — to “create a new atmosphere of trust and confidence.”

Jack Straw of Britain, Joschka Fischer of Germany and Dominique de Villepin of France said in Tehran that if Iran proves its nuclear program is only for energy production, they would make it easier for Iran to get nuclear technology.

The European ministers said in their joint statement that “the full implementation of Iran’s decisions, confirmed by the IAEA director general, should enable the immediate situation to be resolved by the IAEA board.”

Staff writer David W. Jones in Washington contributed to this report.

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