- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 4, 2009

TEHRAN | The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mohamed ElBaradei, arrived in Iran on Saturday to arrange an inspection of a uranium enrichment facility near the theological center of Qom whose existence Iran disclosed only last month.

Hours after the agency chief landed in Tehran, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad again insisted that Iran had done nothing wrong in failing to report the facility before construction began. Iran informed the IAEA of the plant’s existence on Sept. 21.

President Obama “made a big and historic mistake” in accusing Iran of wrongdoing, Iranian state TV quoted Mr. Ahmadinejad as saying during a speech Saturday. “Later it became clear that [his] information was wrong and that we had no secrecy.”

Iran agreed to allow U.N. inspectors into the plant at a landmark meeting with six world powers near Geneva on Thursday that included the highest-level bilateral contact with the U.S. in three decades.

Western officials said Iran also agreed “in principle” to send most of its enriched uranium to Russia, which would enrich it to higher levels to fuel a research reactor in Tehran.

But Mehdi Saffare, Iran’s ambassador to Britain and a member of the delegation at the talks, said Iran had not yet agreed to the plan.

The site near Qom has raised concerns among the U.S. and many of its allies who suspect Iran of using its nuclear program as a way to develop nuclear weapons capability - an allegation that Tehran rejects.

Iranian officials argue that under IAEA safeguard rules, a member nation is required to inform the U.N. agency about the existence of a nuclear facility six months before introducing nuclear material into the machines. Iran says the new facility won’t be operational for 18 months, so it has not violated any IAEA requirements.

The IAEA has said that Iran is obliged under the Additional Protocol to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to notify the organization when it begins to design a new nuclear facility.

Iran says it voluntarily implemented the Additional Protocol for 2 1/2 years, but its parliament passed legislation in 2007 ending such cooperation after the country was referred to the U.N. Security Council for sanctions over its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment.

The IAEA has countered by saying that a government cannot unilaterally abandon the agreement.

Suspicion that Iran’s newly revealed nuclear site was meant for military purposes was heightened by its location at least partly inside a mountain and next to a military base.

Iran has said it built the facility in such a way only to ensure continuity of its nuclear activities in case of an attack.

The Obama administration, together with the U.S. Congress, is drawing up plans for tough new sanctions if the talks with Iran show signs of faltering. A congressional committee will hold a hearing Tuesday on the possibility of expanding sanctions to cover a wider range of financial transactions and ban exporting refined petroleum to Iran.

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