- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 4, 2009

TEHRAN — The head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog said Sunday there is a “shifting of gears” in Iran’s confrontation with the West to more cooperation and transparency, and he announced that international inspectors would visit Tehran’s newly revealed uranium enrichment site on Oct. 25.

The International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei, speaking at a news conference in Tehran with Iran’s top nuclear official, said that his agency “has no concrete proof of an ongoing weapons program in Iran” but that the IAEA has “concerns about Iran’s future intentions.”

“I see that we are at a critical moment. I see that we are shifting gears from confrontation into transparency and cooperation,” Mr. ElBaradei said.

His visit followed a week of intense diplomatic activity surrounding Iran’s nuclear program, set off by the revelation that Tehran had been secretly constructing a new uranium enrichment plant just north of the holy city of Qom. On Thursday, Iran and six world powers put nuclear talks back on track at a landmark session in Geneva that included the highest-level bilateral contact with the United States in years.

President Obama’s national security adviser said Sunday that Washington also was pleased with the level of cooperation from Iran.

“For now, things are moving in the right direction,” retired Gen. James Jones said on CNN’s “State of the Union” program.

Mr. ElBaradei arrived Saturday to set up the U.N. inspection of the Qom facility. The revelation of the plant heightened suspicion that Tehran is using a civilian nuclear program as a cover for developing weapons. Iran denies that and says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only.

“It is important for us to send our inspectors to do a comprehensive verification of that facility, to assure ourselves that it is a facility that is built for peaceful purposes,” Mr. ElBaradei said, seated beside Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s nuclear agency. “We agreed that our inspectors would come here on the 25th of October to do the inspection and to go to Qom, and I hope and I trust that Iran will be as transparent with our inspectors team as possible.”

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations said that the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council are studying options for more sanctions if Iran does not prove its nuclear work is for peaceful purposes only.

Ambassador Susan Rice, speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” also cautioned that Iran had a “finite period” to completely open its nuclear program to international inspections. She refused to set a deadline.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told Mr. ElBaradei that Iran’s cooperation with the agency has left no ambiguity over Tehran’s nuclear activities.

“Outstanding issues were resolved due to good cooperation between Iran and the agency,” state TV quoted Mr. Ahmadinejad as saying. “Today, there are no ambiguous issue left.”

But the IAEA says there are still outstanding issues that Iran needs to clarify, including alleged studies by Iran on high explosives and a missile delivery system for a nuclear warhead.

Late last month, Mr. Obama and the leaders of France and Britain accused Iran of keeping the construction hidden from the world for years. Mr. Obama said Iran’s actions “raised grave doubts” about its promise to use nuclear technology for peaceful purposes only. Uranium enrichment can be used in the process of producing both nuclear energy and nuclear weapons.

“As I have said many times and I continue to say today, the agency has no complete proof that there is an ongoing weapons program in Iran,” Mr. ElBaradei said. “There are allegations that Iran has conducted weaponization studies. However, these allegations we are still looking into, and we are looking to Iran to help us clarify,” he added.

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, and so it has not violated any IAEA requirements.

Mr. Salehi said the IAEA inspection of the Qom facility will be within the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty safeguard regulations.

“We announced the facility earlier than we were required to do… . The inspection will take place within the safeguard agreements,” Mr. Salehi told reporters.

However, the IAEA has said that Iran was obliged to notify it under the Additional Protocol to the NPT when it begins design of a new nuclear facility.

“We disagree with the interpretation of Iran… . Iran should have informed the IAEA the day it decided to construct the facility,” Mr. ElBaradei said.

Iran says it voluntarily implemented the Additional Protocol for 2 1/2 years as a confidence-building gesture, but its parliament passed legislation in 2007 forcing the government to end such cooperation after the country was referred to the U.N. Security Council for sanctions over its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment.

“Iran stopped applying (Additional Protocol to NPT) after the U.N. Security Council unjustly intervened in Iran’s nuclear issue,” Mr. Salehi said.

The Additional Protocol allows intrusive inspection of a country by IAEA and requires the signatory to inform the agency of any plan or design about a nuclear facility even before construction.

Mr. ElBaradei called on Iran to resume allowing intrusive inspections.

“It is important to us that Iran reapplies the Additional Protocol,” he said.

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 to protect it from a potential aerial bombing and to ensure continuity of its nuclear activities in case of an attack.

Mr. ElBaradei also discussed a plan to allow Russia to take some of Iran’s processed uranium and enrich it to higher levels to fuel a research reactor in Tehran.

He said that there would be a meeting Oct. 19 in Vienna with Iran, the United States, France and Russia to discuss the details of that agreement.

Associated Press writer Paul Schemm contributed to this report from Cairo.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide