- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 27, 2009

TEHRAN | Iran will allow the U.N. nuclear agency to inspect a newly revealed and still unfinished uranium enrichment facility, the country’s nuclear chief told state television Saturday.

The announcement came as the United States and its five allies trying to stop Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program planned to tell Tehran in a key meeting Thursday that it must provide “unfettered access” to its Qom enrichment facility within weeks, a senior Obama administration official said.

The allies - the United States, Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia - also will present in the Oct. 1 meeting a so-called transparency package covering all of Iran’s nuclear activities across the country, the official said. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss plans that are not yet ready to be announced.

Iranian Vice President Ali Akbar Salehi said there was nothing secret about the site and that Iran complied with U.N. rules that require it to inform the International Atomic Energy Agency six months before a uranium enrichment facility becomes operational.

“Inspection will be within the framework of the regulations … we have no problem with inspection [of the site]. We will work out this issue with the agency and will announce the date of the inspection later after reaching an agreement with IAEA,” Mr. Salehi said.

He didn’t specify when inspectors from the IAEA could visit the site, but said it has to be worked out with the agency under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty rules.

The White House responded to the announcement by urging Iran’s complete and immediate cooperation with the world body’s nuclear agency .

President Obama said evidence of Iran building the underground plant “continues a disturbing pattern of Iranian evasion,” but offered Tehran “a serious, meaningful dialogue” over its disputed nuclear program.

“Iran’s leaders must now choose - they can live up to their responsibilities and achieve integration with the community of nations, or they will face increased pressure and isolation, and deny opportunity to their own people,” Mr. Obama said in his radio and Internet address Saturday.

In New York, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said, “It is always welcome when Iran makes a decision to comply with the international rules and regulations, and particularly with respect to the IAEA.”

Mr. Obama, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy accused Iran on Friday of constructing a secret underground uranium enrichment facility and of hiding its existence from international inspectors for years.

The site is said to be in the arid mountains near the holy city of Qom, inside a heavily guarded, underground facility belonging to the elite Revolutionary Guard.

The small-scale site is meant to house no more than 3,000 centrifuges - far fewer than the 8,000 machines at Natanz, Iran’s known industrial-scale enrichment facility. Still, the enriching machines in the Qom facility will produce nuclear fuel - or possibly the payload for atomic warheads.

Ahead of Thursday’s international talks with Iran in Geneva, Mr. Obama said the world “is more united than ever before” on the issue. Those negotiations, he said, “now take on added urgency.”

Mr. Salehi, who is also the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said Tehran should be praised, not condemned, for voluntarily revealing the existence of the nuclear facility.

“Under [nonproliferation treaty] rules, we are required to inform the IAEA of the existence of such a facility 180 days before introducing materials, but we are announcing it more than a year earlier. Still, we see there is controversy. We are astonished,” he said.

Iran says the new facility won’t be operational for 18 months, so Iran has not violated any IAEA requirements.

The allies will demand that Iran prove to the increasingly skeptical group that its intentions with its various sites are peaceful and energy-related, as Iran claims, and not for weapons development, as the West believes, a senior Obama administration official said Saturday.

These nations now agree that they are less inclined to listen to suspect arguments or incomplete evidence - viewing it as a stall tactic, the official said.

But beyond the timeframe of “weeks” for coming clean on Qom, the allies will not give Iran a specific deadline to provide the information about its overall program, the official said.

The development of such a timeframe would depend on the Iranians’ actions in the meeting and directly after it, the official said.

The Iranians claim to have withdrawn from an agreement with the IAEA requiring them to notify the agency of the intent to build any new nuclear facilities and instead are now only subject to the six-month notification requirement before a facility becomes operational. But the IAEA says Tehran cannot unilaterally withdraw from that bilateral agreement.

A close aide to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei also said Saturday that the Qom facility would be operational “soon,” perhaps even ahead of the 18-month figure cited by Mr. Salehi.

“This new facility, God willing, will become operational soon and will blind the eyes of the enemies,” Mohammad Mohammadi Golpayegani told the semi-official Fars news agency.

Meanwhile, Iran announced Saturday that the country’s elite Revolutionary Guards will hold missile defense exercises over several days starting Sunday to boost the Islamic republic’s deterrence capability.

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