Wed, Jun 27, 2007 - Page 6 News List

IAEA inspectors to visit Iran in coming weeks

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , FRANKFURT, GERMANY

A team of inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will travel to Tehran in the coming weeks at the invitation of the Iranian government to try to clear up longstanding questions about Iran's nuclear program, the agency said on Monday.

Iran issued the invitation after a flurry of meetings between Ali Larijani, its chief negotiator; Mohamed ElBaradei, the IAEA chief; and Javier Solana, the foreign policy chief of the EU.

The purpose of the visit is to "develop an action plan for resolving outstanding issues" relating to Iran's nuclear program, said Melissa Fleming, a spokeswoman for the Vienna-based agency. She added that the inspectors would leave for Tehran "as early as practicable."

Diplomats close to the agency said Iran's move seemed calculated to stem the rising tide of pressure over its nuclear ambitions. With Tehran refusing to suspend its enrichment of uranium, the UN Security Council has begun deliberating a fresh set of sanctions against the country.

The yearlong stalemate has deepened fears in the West about Iran's nuclear capabilities because Tehran has installed hundreds of centrifuges that can enrich uranium. The US, which has supported European-led efforts to find a diplomatic solution, reacted skeptically to Iran's invitation.

"I don't think Iran's track record is particularly noteworthy or particularly likely to give me or anyone else confidence that anything will come of these discussions," US State Department spokesman Tom Casey said. "We would certainly like to see them comply, but to date, they haven't."

The first sign of Iran's proposal came on Friday after Larijani met ElBaradei for two hours.

Afterward, ElBaradei said he hoped that within two months a plan for resolving the agency's unanswered questions about the program could be developed.

In Iran, the agency's inspectors are still active, even at Natanz, the nuclear plant where uranium is enriched. But since February last year, Tehran has kept the inspectors on a tighter leash.

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