Sat, Dec 20, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Iran agrees to let inspectors check its nuclear program

REUTERS , VIENNA

Iran signed an agreement on Thursday allowing the UN nuclear watchdog to conduct snap inspections across its territory, which Tehran said should prove it is not secretly developing atomic weapons.

The signature to the Additional Protocol to the 1968 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) comes nearly 18 months after an exiled Iranian opposition group sparked an international crisis by saying Tehran was hiding several large nuclear facilities. The allegations proved to be true.

Iran's outgoing ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Ali Akbar Salehi, signed the document for Tehran, which he said was clear proof his nation wanted to open every inch of its nuclear program to international scrutiny.

He told reporters at the IAEA headquarters in Vienna that Iran would "not leave any stone unturned to reveal its full transparency and establish the confidence that is needed."

In a clear jab at Washington, which accuses Iran of secretly developing an atom bomb, Salehi said: "I ardently hope the new age is set and my country shall no more be subject to unfair and politically motivated accusations and allegations."

IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei, who signed the document on behalf of the UN agency, said Iran's signature would help boost confidence that its nuclear ambitions were peaceful. But he urged Tehran to ratify the protocol as soon as possible.

"I was assured that Iran, until the protocol is ratified, will act as if the protocol is in force," ElBaradei said.

The US has labelled Iran part of an "axis of evil" and says it is using its atomic energy program as a smokescreen to develop nuclear arms. Tehran denies this.

"It's welcome that Iran has made this commitment but what's important to remember is that it is only a first step," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said in Washington, saying Tehran needed to ratify the protocol and carry it out.

"The signature alone doesn't implement the promises. It doesn't suspend the enrichment program, and it doesn't fully satisfy the international community that Iran is not going to carry out activities relating to nuclear weapons," he said.

Russia, which has annoyed Washington by forging ahead with plans to build Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant, praised Tehran for signing the protocol.

"We welcome this responsible step from the Iranian government, evidence of Tehran's intention to consistently move along the path of ensuring complete transparency of its nuclear program," a Russian foreign ministry official told Interfax.

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