Wed, Oct 01, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Iran seeks nuclear-issue closure

IN THEIR RIGHTS Iran insists it will not stop uranium enrichment and that it has a right to a peaceful nuclear program, as allowed under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty

AP , UNITED NATIONS

Iran acknowledged that traces of weapons-grade uranium were found at one of its nuclear facilities but denied enriching the material. Iran's foreign minister said his country was prepared to allow unfettered nuclear inspections.

Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said Monday his country has "nothing to hide" from inspectors. But he said before Iran signs a protocol allowing the more severe inspections, it wants assurances that that move will end the conflict over its nuclear program.

"We want to make sure that additional protocol is going to solve the problems and it is going to be enough," Kharrazi told reporters at the UN.

The UN International Atomic Energy Agency has demanded that Iran agree by Oct. 31 to allow unfettered inspections and stop all uranium enrichment. The US, Europe and Russia have hiked up pressure on Tehran to meet the deadline.

The IAEA is sending a team to Iran for key negotiations Thursday. Then -- the agency hopes -- a new round of inspections will begin Friday.

Iran insists it will not stop uranium enrichment and that it has a right to a peaceful nuclear program, as allowed under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, or NPT. As a signatory, Iran is prohibited from developing nuclear weapons.

"We have always stressed that we don't have any program to produce a nuclear weapons and all our activities are legal in the framework of our commitment to the NPT and our rights based on NPT and under the safeguard of IAEA," Kharrazi said.

"Everyone talks about signing additional protocol, and in principle, we don't have any problem to have more severe inspections because we don't have anything to hide," he said.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher, who met with Kharrazi on Monday, said the Iranians hope their efforts to clear up the nuclear issue will be reciprocated.

"The Iranians showed flexibility. They hope -- as he [Kharrazi] mentioned to us -- that they will be met with flexibility from the other side," Maher told reporters.

In Tehran, Iran's representative to the IAEA acknowledged that traces of enriched uranium were found at the Kalay-e Electric Co., just west of Tehran. Diplomats said last week that IAEA inspectors had uncovered the traces at the site -- the second such find following the discovery of traces earlier this year at a plant in Natanz.

But Ali Akbar Salehi, speaking on Tehran television, ruled out that the enriched uranium found at either site was produced in Iran. Tehran maintains that traces of the new enriched material were imported on equipment purchased from abroad.

"It needs a lot of centrifuges to work for a long time to enrich uranium," he told the TV station. "The IAEA and we know that there has been no such level of activity in Iran."

The United States, however, has pointed the discoveries as evidence that Iran is secretly developing nuclear weapons.

IAEA spokesman Mark Gwozdecky said the agency had no comment on the Iranian acknowledgment of the find at Kalay-e.

Christopher Paine, a nonproliferation expert at the Washington-based National Resources Defense Council, said Iran's argument was "plausible." But Thomas Cochran, with the same think tank, said it was unlikely that Iran would not have checked any used equipment for traces of contamination.

A diplomat familiar with the Iran nuclear issue, speaking in Vienna on condition of anonymity, said there was no way of telling from the samples available to the IAEA whether the Iranian explanation for the two discoveries was true.

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