U.N. team to travel to Iran in effort to ease stalemate

June 26, 2007|By New York Times News Service

FRANKFURT, Germany -- A team of inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency will travel to Tehran in the coming weeks at the invitation of the Iranian government to try to clear up long-standing questions about Iran's nuclear program, the agency said yesterday.

Iran issued the invitation after a flurry of meetings between Ali Larijani, its chief negotiator; Mohamed ElBaradei, the atomic agency's director general; and Javier Solana, the foreign policy chief of the European Union.

The purpose of the visit is to "develop an action plan for resolving outstanding issues" relating to Iran's nuclear program, said Melissa Fleming, a spokeswoman for the Vienna, Austria-based agency. She added that the inspectors would leave for Tehran "as early as practicable."

Diplomats close to the agency said Iran's move seemed calculated to stem the rising tide of pressure over its nuclear ambitions. With Tehran refusing to suspend its enrichment of uranium, the U.N. Security Council has begun deliberating a fresh set of sanctions against the country.

The yearlong stalemate has deepened fears in the West about Iran's nuclear capabilities because Tehran has installed hundreds of centrifuges that can enrich uranium. The United States, which has supported European-led efforts to find a diplomatic solution, reacted skeptically to Iran's invitation.

"I don't think Iran's track record is particularly noteworthy or particularly likely to give me or anyone else confidence that anything will come of these discussions," said Tom Casey, a spokesman for the State Department. "We would certainly like to see them comply, but to date, they haven't."

The first sign of Iran's proposal came Friday after Larijani met for two hours with ElBaradei. Afterward, ElBaradei said he hoped that within two months a plan for resolving the agency's unanswered questions about the program could be developed.

In Iran, the agency's inspectors are still active, even at Natanz, the nuclear plant where uranium is enriched. But since February 2006, when the agency's 35-member governing board voted to report Iran to the Security Council, Tehran has kept the inspectors on a tighter leash.

The agency is seeking the authority to inspect more sites - for example, factories that produce centrifuge machines. It also wants to scrutinize documents, including import-export records, which could shed light on whether Iran is conducting clandestine efforts to make weapons.

In a report to the agency's board this month, ElBaradei said he was frustrated by the agency's inability to verify the scope of Iran's ambitions, particularly as Tehran has expanded the Natanz plant and "continues steadily to perfect its knowledge relevant to enrichment."

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