Delegation tours Iran nuclear facility

Diplomats, reporters invited to see that program is peaceful

February 04, 2007|By New York Times News Service

ISFAHAN, Iran -- Iran opened one of its nuclear sites to several local and international reporters and a delegation of foreign ambassadors yesterday in an effort to show the transparency of its program before a U.N. Security Council deadline this month.

Delegations from the Non-Aligned Movement, Group of 77 and League of Arab States, along with nearly 100 reporters, arrived at the Isfahan Uranium Conversion Facility in central Iran.

The delegation included representatives from the U.N. nuclear agency from Algeria, Cuba, Egypt and Malaysia.

Iran has kept up efforts to give the Isfahan facility more publicity, and a senior tourism official said late last year that Iran planned to open it and other nuclear sites to foreign tourists.

Iran's ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, said yesterday that the purpose of the tour was to assure the world that Iran's program was peaceful.

"In fact we have representatives from all over the world," Soltanieh said. "We decided to have them come here and see for themselves." He emphasized the International Atomic Energy Agency surveillance cameras in place there.

Photographers and video camera operators were not allowed to take pictures in the outside area of the compound.

However the visitors, after being given clothes, gloves and masks to protect them from radiation, toured the main facility for nearly an hour.

The Isfahan site is where uranium ore is converted into yellowcake and gas. The gas is then transferred to the more sophisticated site in Natanz, where it could be enriched by centrifuges.

Reporters passed the Natanz enrichment site yesterday, but they were not permitted to tour that site, where Iran recently said it was installing 3,000 centrifuges. The facility is surrounded by anti-aircraft artillery. The Isfahan site also had air-raid bunkers.

Iran insists that its program is peaceful, but the United States and European countries contend that Iran is trying to build a program that could eventually produce enough highly enriched uranium to make nuclear weapons.

The tour occurred as a U.N. deadline neared this month for Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment program or face tougher economic sanctions.

The U.N. Security Council passed a resolution Dec. 23 banning the trade of goods and technology related to Iran's nuclear program.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has brushed off the sanctions as insignificant and has vowed to continue with the program.

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