Iran signs nuclear pact with U.N. energy agency

Treaty granting access to suspect sites remains to be ratified by Tehran


Iran signed a protocol to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty yesterday, allowing the International Atomic Energy Agency greater rights to inspect suspect nuclear sites in the country.

Iran's former representative at the agency, Ali Akbar Salehi, and Mohamed ElBaradei, the director-general of the agency, signed the protocol in Vienna, Austria. The agency is a United Nations organization that promotes atomic energy and monitors its use in military applications.

"The protocol for us is an important tool for our work towards trying to establish confidence that the nuclear program is really peaceful," said the agency's chief spokesman, Mark Gwozdecky. "The next step is that Iran would ratify the agreement."

Gwozdecky said by telephone from Rome that the signing of the agreement demonstrated "an act of good faith or good will on the part of the Iranian government."

It is an indication of Tehran's "legal commitment" that must be followed by ratification of the agreement, which would make it a full legal obligation, he said.

"It, formally speaking, doesn't enter into force until ratification has taken place," Gwozdecky said. "However, Iran has told us that they will act as if the protocol was ratified, and therefore they have allowed our inspectors to go and inspect places as they want to.

"Right now we are getting the benefits of the protocol without it being legally enforced," Gwozdecky said. "They have indicated to us that they would continue to do so until ratification legally brings that into force."

Asked when the ratification might take place, Gwozdecky said that there was no deadline and that the process varied for each country because legislation must be enacted.

For example, new laws may be required to compel companies to cooperate or to criminalize activities in order to comply with the agreement, he said.

"Iran has stated that it is acting in accordance with the protocol's provisions, pending the protocol's formal entry into force," according to a statement posted on the International Atomic Energy Agency's Web site after the signing. "The additional protocol requires states to provide an expanded declaration of their nuclear activities and grants the agency broader rights of access to sites in the country."

Iran's vice president, Gholam Reza Aghazadeh, told reporters Wednesday that Iran would sign the agreement to demonstrate its commitment to peaceful uses of nuclear power.

"Iran has decided to sign the protocol to prove that the Iranian nuclear program is for civilian purposes," Aghazadeh, who is also the head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization, said in remarks carried by the Islamic Republic News Agency on Wednesday. "Signing the protocol will also end the propaganda campaign against the nuclear program."

On Oct. 21, Iran agreed under international pressure to sign the additional protocol to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

During a visit by the foreign ministers of Britain, Germany and France, Iran agreed to suspend its uranium enrichment program and allow unfettered inspections, but it demanded technical cooperation for its peaceful nuclear program.

The Iranian news agency carried a report yesterday quoting Antonio Nunez Garcia-Sauco, chairman of the IAEA board of governors, as saying that the board expected Iran to immediately set the protocol into motion. He said the board was still studying a report Iran submitted to the agency last month on its nuclear activities, but acknowledged that the country had suspended its uranium-enrichment program.

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