Wed, Apr 07, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Iran promises stop building centrifuges


Iran will stop building and assembling centrifuges for uranium enrichment this week, the country's nuclear chief said yesterday after a meeting with the chief UN weapons inspector.

Gholamreza Aghazadeh, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said the country would "voluntarily" suspend its centrifuge work starting April 9.

Iran "is interested as quickly as possible to bring this case to a close," he said.

Mohamed ElBaradei, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, welcomed the announcement and said a new team of inspectors would come to Tehran on April 12 to verify that all uranium enrichment activities had stopped.

ElBaradei arrived in Tehran earlier Tuesday to meet with Iran's president and top Iranian officials in an effort to press the regime for greater openness with its suspect nuclear programs.

"We agreed that we need to accelerate the process of cooperation," ElBaradei said. "Mr. Aghazadeh committed that Iran will do everything possible to accelerate the process of resolving the outstanding issues. I hope during the course of my visit that we can develop an action plan that can have a timeline."

Aghazadeh said he expected Iran's nuclear dossier would be closed by June, at the next meeting of the IAEA's board of governors.

"We will do our best [for] ... our relationship with the agency to be normalized," he said.

But yesterday's announcement countered Iran's claim on March 29 that it had stopped building centrifuges for uranium enrichment.

ElBaradei's trip to Iran was meant to address such indications of continued nuclear cover-ups and signs that even previously reluctant US allies were moving closer to the US view that Tehran should be penalized.

ElBaradei said he would address two key points with top Iranian officials: the origins of traces of highly enriched uranium found in the country, and details on Iran's advanced P-2 centrifuges -- equipment that could be used to enrich uranium for use in a weapon.

Vienna-based diplomats familiar with the IAEA's activities in Iran, where experts have been examining nuclear sites and programs for signs of past and present weapons ambitions, said there is lingering doubt about whether Iran is revealing all of its activities.

Iran insists its nuclear program is peaceful and geared only toward producing electricity. The US and other nations contend it masks a covert effort to build a nuclear weapon, and an IAEA resolution last month censured Iran for hiding suspicious activities.

"At the end of the day, the issue is to really create confidence that this is a program for peaceful purpose," ElBaradei said Monday, calling on Tehran to "turn over a new leaf."

ElBaradei was to return to Vienna today.

He said last month's resolution showed that the board is "getting a little bit impatient and they would like to see progress."

On Sunday, Iran denied it has hidden any nuclear facilities by shifting them to easier-to-conceal sites.

Iranian officials were responding to alleged intelligence from the US and an unnamed country suggesting that within the past year, Iran had moved nuclear enrichment programs to less detectable locations.

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