Sat, Nov 27, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Iran pushing the envelope on inspections, IAEA says

THE GUARDIAN , Vienna

Iran Thursday sought to relax a recent agreement with the EU over its nuclear program, jeopardizing a potential breakthrough in the two-year dispute as the UN's chief nuclear inspector came close to saying Iran's nuclear promises could not be believed.

During the meeting in Vienna of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, the IAEA chief, disclosed that for the second time in a week that Iran was seeking to "move the goalposts."

Iran had reached an agreement three weeks ago with Britain, Germany and France to freeze its uranium enrichment program. The freeze took effect on Monday.

But UN inspectors seeking to confirm the suspension in Iran on Wednesday were prevented from placing UN seals on all of the enrichment equipment at Iran's complex in Natanz. On that day the government in Tehran told the IAEA it wanted to exempt from the agreement 20 centrifuge machines used to enrich uranium.

While the Europeans view the request as a breach of the agreement made in Paris three weeks ago, and the US will see the move as further "proof" that Iran has begun an illicit nuclear weapons project, the Iranians were holding out last night amid a row over the wording of a resolution to be adopted by the meeting.

ElBaradei was unusually critical of the Iranian conduct.

"A confidence deficit has been created," he told Thursday's meeting.

"Confidence needs to be restored. Iran's active cooperation and full transparency is indispensable."

The EU troika has drafted a tough resolution which would entitle the inspectors to scrutinize anything they want in Iran and which indirectly warns of taking greater action.

Iran's failure to provide access to contentious sites could lead to the UN Security Council for reprimand and possible sanctions if the agreement is broken.

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