- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 5, 2005

VIENNA, Austria — Iran has agreed to grant access to a military site the United States links to a secret nuclear-weapons program and the first U.N. inspectors could arrive “within days,” the head of the U.N. nuclear-watchdog agency said yesterday.

In an interview, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei also criticized reported U.S. bugging of his phone conversations.

In comments sure to annoy the United States, which insists Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons, Mr. ElBaradei suggested the time was approaching to wind down 2 years of intense focus on Iran’s activities and treat Tehran as just another IAEA member.

The U.N. agency has been pressing Tehran for months to be allowed to inspect the Parchin military complex, used by the Iranians to research, develop and produce ammunition, missiles and high explosives. Yesterday, Mr. ElBaradei said IAEA inspectors could be in Parchin “within days or weeks.”

In leaks to the press last year, U.S. intelligence officials said that a specially secured site on the Parchin complex, 20 miles southeast of Tehran, may be used in research on making high-explosive components for use in nuclear weapons.

The IAEA has not found any firm evidence to challenge Iranian assertions that its military is not involved in nuclear activities.

But an IAEA report in October expressed concern about published intelligence and press reports “relating to dual-use equipment and materials, which have applications … in the nuclear military area.”

Diplomats accredited to the agency said that phrasing alluded to Parchin.

Iran has been the main focus of the IAEA since mid-2002, after revelations of two secret nuclear facilities — a uranium-enrichment plant at Natanz and a heavy-water production plant near Arak. That led to a subsequent IAEA investigation of what turned out to be nearly two decades of covert nuclear activities.

As part of his probe, Mr. ElBaradei has produced a series of reports detailing the progress of investigations for guidance by the IAEA board on deciding what to do about Iran’s nuclear activities. But he has stopped short of declaring Tehran in breach of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

That has fed U.S. frustrations. Insisting that Iran has violated the treaty, Washington repeatedly has urged the board to ask the U.N. Security Council to take Tehran to task.

Senior U.S. officials have blamed Mr. ElBaradei for the board’s refusal to do so, suggesting he is too soft on Iran and that they will fight his efforts to gain re-election this year for a third term as IAEA head.

As part of U.S. efforts to oust Mr. ElBaradei, his telephone conversations were purportedly bugged in what the press recently reported were attempts to prove favoritism toward Iran.

Mr. ElBaradei said any such action “interferes with my basic human right to privacy — but more importantly it interferes in our ability to work in an independent manner.”

He said he will “continue to keep the board updated” on Iran. But he said he may not produce a new report on Tehran’s nuclear activities for the next board meeting in March, adding that he hoped to reduce the Iran file to “routine reporting” over the next six months.

Mr. ElBaradei also identified North Korea as “the No. 1 security threat,” saying the isolated communist country, which severed ties with his agency two years ago, probably had enough nuclear material to make six to eight bombs.

On a separate issue, Mr. ElBaradei declined to comment directly on reports that Egyptian scientists experimented with small amounts of uranium compounds that could be used in a nuclear-weapons program. Egypt’s government rejected the reports, saying its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

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