Iran agrees to nuclear inspections

Tehran officials promise to cooperate with U.N., stop enrichment activity

October 22, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

TEHRAN, Iran - Iran agreed yesterday to allow full inspections of its nuclear sites and to suspend its uranium-enrichment programs.

The move came after Iranian officials met here with three European foreign ministers: Jack Straw of Britain, Dominique de Villepin of France and Joschka Fischer of Germany.

In a joint statement after the nearly four-hour meeting, Iran declared that it would sign a measure allowing unscheduled and intrusive inspections of its nuclear sites. It also said Iran would cooperate fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency and suspend its uranium-enrichment programs.

Iran has been under increasing international pressure, including from the United States, to allow such inspections, under a protocol of the nuclear nonproliferation treaty.

The secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, Hassan Rowhani, said at a joint news conference that Iran had decided to sign and carry out the protocol so that it could continue its legitimate nuclear activities.

He said Iran was suspending its uranium-enrichment program "for a while to show its good will and build confidence with the European and other countries," Rowhani said.

"This is a voluntary decision," he said, "and we are doing it to create a new atmosphere of trust and to develop relations with Europe and industrialized countries."

The decisions were welcomed by the three ministers.

"This is a very important day," de Villepin said. "We were facing a major issue. Proliferation is a major challenge to the world, and today we found a solution to the pending issue."

Fischer said that the agreement was opening "a serious process to resolve the nuclear issue between Iran and the international community."

Straw, however, was more cautious, telling the BBC that "the proof is not in words of the communique but about the implementation and compliance with the agency."

The joint statement said Britain, France and Germany believed that the agreement would open the way to longer-term cooperation and provide "satisfactory assurance" about Iran's nuclear power program.

"Once international concerns, including those of the three governments, are fully resolved, Iran could expect easier access to modern technology and supplies in a range of areas," the statement said.

The governments also recognized the right of Iran to enjoy peaceful use of nuclear energy in accordance with the nonproliferation treaty.

The atomic energy agency, an arm of the United Nations, had given Iran until the end of October to sign the additional protocol and suspend uranium enrichment. Iran could have faced sanctions by the Security Council if it refused to comply.

It is not yet clear whether Iran's decision will allay international concerns over its activities. The board of governors of the United Nations' nuclear agency is to discuss Iran's case Nov. 20, and its chief, Mohamed ElBaradei, is expected to report on his inspectors' findings. ElBaradei visited Iran last week, and the agency's inspectors have been visiting nuclear sites and at least one military facility in Iran since early this month.

Traces of weapons-grade uranium were found at two sites last month. Iran said they had been brought into Iran on contaminated equipment imported from other countries.

Rowhani said Iran started carrying out the protocol a few months ago, when it extended cooperation to the agency's inspectors.

He said its implementation would continue even before the legal procedure for signing and ratifying the protocol was concluded.

But he said Iran was noncommittal on how long it would suspend enrichment: "It could last for one day or one year - it depends on us. As long as Iran thinks that this suspension is beneficial for us, it will continue and whenever we don't want to, it we will end it."

After the protocol is signed, it needs to be ratified by Iran's Parliament and must be approved by a hard-line watchdog body, whose members have opposed the protocol in the past.

Analysts in Tehran said it seemed unlikely that the protocol would face opposition because the agreements were made with Rowhani, who has close ties with Iran's supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Khamenei has the final word on all state decisions.

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