TEHRAN, Iran (Asharq Al-Awsat) – Five inspectors from the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency have arrived in Tehran to visit Iran’s uranium enrichment and reprocessing facilities, state-run television reported Saturday, reported AP.
Iran’s deputy nuclear chief, Mohammad Saeedi, said the inspectors would visit the Natanz uranium enrichment plant and the Isfahan Uranium Conversion Facility, both in central Iran, later Saturday.
IAEA chief, Mohamed ElBaradei, is to visit Iran next week to try to wrest concessions from Tehran on its atomic program, IAEA officials and diplomats accredited to the agency said Friday. He could arrive as early as Sunday or Monday, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.
The IAEA inspections come almost midway through the 30-day period the U.N. Security Council gave to Tehran on March 29 to meet its demand to suspend uranium enrichment. The Security Council also directed the IAEA to report to it on Iran’s compliance.
The five inspectors, who arrived in Tehran Friday, will stay in Iran for five days, state-run television reported. Saeedi said the inspectors’ visit was a prescheduled trip within the framework of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty framework.
The U.S. accuses Iran of using its civilian nuclear facilities as a cover to develop nuclear weapons. Tehran has denied the charges saying it aims only to generate electricity.
Ayatollah Mohammed Ali Taskhiri, the Iranian president’s adviser for cultural affairs and secretary-general of the International Assembly for Proximity of Islamic Schools of Thought, has said that the uranium enrichment carried out by Iran for peaceful purposes is estimated at 3.5%, adding that his country has not carried out enrichment to 100%.
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, on the sidelines of the 18th International Islamic Conference organized by the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs in Cairo yesterday, the Iranian official said that the only solution for the United States and Europe to end the nuclear file problem is through dialogue and understating based on international law. He added that the problem lies in the contradictions and double standards.
Iran has rejected the Security Council’s demand, saying the small-scale enrichment project was strictly for research and was within its rights under the nonproliferation treaty.
While ElBaradei’s trip is meant to defuse tensions caused by fears Iran could be seeking nuclear weapons, a partial success could actually exacerbate differences among the five permanent members of the Security Council.
If Iran commits to some Security Council requests, but does not meet demands to freeze uranium enrichment, that might placate Russia and China, which oppose tough measures against Iran. It would, however, fall short of the full compliance sought by the United States, France and Britain on enrichment and other issues.
Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Tuesday that Iran was prepared to negotiate on the large-scale enrichment of uranium but will never abandon its right to enrich uranium.
Iran stopped allowing snap inspections of its facilities after the IAEA referred it to the Security Council in February.
More than three years of IAEA probing failed to produce concrete evidence of a nuclear weapons program. But the agency discovered suspicious activity, including plutonium experiments and efforts to develop enriched uranium.
Natanz is the facility where Iran resumed research-scale uranium enrichment in February. It resumed reprocessing raw uranium into a feedstock for enrichment last August. The nuclear program is a source of national pride in Iran, and even government opponents have expressed support for it.
Uranium enriched to low levels is used to produce nuclear fuel but further enrichment makes it suitable for use in an atomic bomb.
Experts say that while a bomb could be built with uranium enriched by small-scale facilities, it would take a long time, perhaps years, to do so.
Iran currently is using about two dozen centrifuges to enrich small amounts of uranium. While it plans to run thousands of centrifuges, Tehran’s known enrichment capabilities are now restricted to a 164-centrifuge pilot plant at Natanz. Large-scale enrichment requires 60,000 to 70,000 centrifuges.