TEHRAN, Iran (AP) – Iran’s cooperation with the U.N. nuclear watchdog has entered a “new phase”, a top Iranian nuclear official said Friday after International Atomic Energy Agency chief, Mohamed ElBaradei, arrived in Tehran for talks concerning Iran’s disputed nuclear program.
ElBaradei’s discussions with Iranian leaders are critical because they will be the basis for a report on Iran by the U.N. agency that was supposed to be wrapped up by December but was apparently postponed to March on Tehran’s request.
The talks also come in the wake of a U.S. intelligence report last month that concluded Iran had stopped its nuclear weapons program in late 2003 and had not resumed it since. In November, an IAEA report said Iran had been truthful about its past uranium enrichment activities.
Elbaradei, who arrived in Tehran early Friday, is scheduled to spend his two-day trip meeting with leaders including President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Vice President and head of Atomic Energy Organization Gholam Reza Aghazadeh and others.
Mohammad Saeedi, deputy head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said Iran’s cooperation with the IAEA has paved the way for Tehran’s nuclear dossier be returned from the U.N. Security Council back to the Vienna-based IAEA.
“Given Iran’s active cooperation with the IAEA and settlement of fundamental and important issues over Iran’s nuclear program, relations between Tehran and IAEA has entered a new phase,” Saeedi was quoted by the official IRNA news agency as saying Friday.
ElBaradei has spearheaded more than four years of international efforts to press Iran for full disclosure of its nuclear activities. ElBaradei spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said Monday he would visit Tehran “with a view of resolving all remaining outstanding issues and enabling the agency to provide assurance about Iran’s past and present activities.”
Prior to his departure, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged ElBaradei to press for full cooperation from Iran over its past nuclear activities. “Iran has many questions that it needs to answer about its past behavior, they also need to account for what they’re doing now,” deputy spokesman Tom Casey said Thursday.
Last month, IAEA and Iran began a new round of discussions on to investigate the source of traces of weapons-grade uranium found at a university in Tehran. Iran has argued that the contamination was due to equipment purchased from abroad, not enrichment activity inside Iran.
In 2003, the IAEA revealed other incidents where traces of weapons-grade uranium were found elsewhere in the country, but Iran said those traces came from imported equipment that had been contaminated before it was purchased.
IAEA findings in 2005 vindicated Iran, saying the traces of highly enriched uranium were found on centrifuge parts that had entered the country already contaminated and were not a result of Iranian nuclear activities. The centrifuge parts were bought from Pakistan.
In its November report, the IAEA also said it requested access to documents, individuals and relevant equipment and locations for sample-taking to determine the source of the university contamination.
While Iran has responded to many IAEA questions about past nuclear activities, some issues still remain unresolved, such as the university contamination.
Iran has also met a key IAEA demand and handed over long-sought blueprints on how to mold uranium metal into the shape of warheads, which Tehran said were obtained from black market nuclear dealers.
The United States and some of its allies accuse Iran of seeking to build nuclear weapons, but Tehran denies that, saying the uranium enrichment is only geared toward generating electricity, not a nuclear bomb.
Iran maintains it would never give up its right under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to enrich uranium and produce nuclear fuel, despite two rounds of U.N. sanctions over its refusal to stop enrichment.