Monday, September 22, 2003

From combined dispatches

TEHRAN — Iran will scale back cooperation with the U.N. nuclear watchdog in response to the agency’s Oct. 31 deadline for Tehran to prove that its atomic programs are peaceful, Iran’s representative to the agency said yesterday.

Ali Akbar Salehi said on state television that Iran had been allowing the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) more oversight than required under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) “to show our good will and transparency. On the strict orders of President Mohammed Khatami, we allowed IAEA inspectors to take environmental samples and visit non-nuclear sites.

“This has been beyond our obligations, but from now on we will act according to the current regulations,” Mr. Salehi said.

The United States has said that Iran, North Korea and the former Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq constituted an axis of evil and has accused Tehran of running a clandestine nuclear weapons program.

It has also sought to have the IAEA declare Tehran in violation of the NPT and has appealed repeatedly to Russia to stop helping Iran build a nuclear power plant, fearing it could be used in efforts to build nuclear weapons.

A recent report by IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei to its board of governors noted that traces of highly enriched, weapons-grade uranium were found at an Iranian nuclear facility, and that tests run by Iran make little sense unless the country is pursuing nuclear weaponry.

Tehran insists its nuclear programs are designed to generate electricity, and that its equipment was “contaminated” with enriched uranium by a previous owner.

The IAEA has pressed Iran to detail its nuclear program and sign an Additional Protocol letting agency inspectors conduct in-depth checks of nuclear facilities.

IAEA spokesman Mark Gwozdecky said the agency did not yet have an official response to Iran’s announcement. He, however, stressed that the agency still hopes Tehran will cooperate.

However, a Western diplomat, speaking on the condition of anonymity, conceded that Iran’s announcement indicates that it is not prepared to give the agency greater access to nuclear sites, and that it could become even more difficult for the IAEA to get answers.

“If Iran has decided to do only the minimum, it doesn’t sound like the accelerated cooperation the IAEA had called on it to provide,” the diplomat said.

In the interview yesterday, Mr. Salehi said Iran will continue talks with the IAEA on signing the protocols concerning inspections.

Iran has maintained that it would agree to unfettered inspections if granted access to advanced nuclear technology as provided for under the NPT. Tehran says Washington is keeping Iran from getting that technology.

On Sept. 12, the IAEA board decided on the Oct. 31 deadline on the basis of Mr. ElBaradei’s report.

Yesterday, Mr. Salehi criticized the decision to set a deadline but did not say whether Iran would try to meet it.

“Many members of IAEA were surprised that despite Iran’s very good cooperation with the agency, some countries were pushing for a deadline,” he said. “Irrespective of whether we oppose or agree to the deadline, setting a deadline from the logical point of view is unacceptable. Mr. ElBaradei was also opposed to the deadline,” he said.

Also yesterday, Iran paraded six of its newly deployed medium-range missiles, which military analysts say could reach Israel or U.S. bases in the Persian Gulf.

It was the largest number of Shahab-3 ballistic missiles put on display since Iran announced in July that it had finished testing the weapon and had deployed it to the Revolutionary Guards.

Television pictures showed one of the missile carriers displaying a defiant message in bold letters on a giant yellow banner facing Mr. Khatami. “We will stamp on America,” it read.

The Shahab-3s, towed to the accompaniment of rousing military music, were the climax of a lengthy parade to commemorate the start of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.

Mr. Khatami, however, said the show of strength should not be read as saber rattling.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran’s policy is based on detente,” he said at the parade, which was led by disabled war veterans.

“We are opposed to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and nuclear weapons, but we insist on our absolute right to be powerful in the scientific and technology areas.”

Based on the North Korean No Dong-1 and modified with Russian technology, the Shahab-3 is thought to have a range of 810 miles.

Hard-liners in Iran say the country should follow North Korea’s example and pull out of the NPT rather than cave in to international pressure.

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