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Iran hints U.N. might get to visit military sites

Diplomats said Tuesday that Iran has signaled it may grant access to sites linked to possible work on nuclear weapons and other demands from the U.N. atomic watchdog agency.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Iran has signaled it may grant access to sites linked to possible work on nuclear weapons and other demands from the U.N. atomic watchdog agency to avoid referral to the Security Council, diplomats said Tuesday.

The diplomats, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the sensitive negotiations, said a high-ranking delegation from the International Atomic Energy Agency was in Tehran on Tuesday to discuss details of a possible Iranian offer.

Besides seeking access to two military sites, the agency also wants to interview military officials thought to be associated with what Iran calls a purely civilian nuclear program. The agency is also asking for documents linked to Tehran’s uranium enrichment program.

IAEA officials view those three outstanding issues as crucial to their nearly three-year inquiry meant to test Iranian assertions that more than 18 years of clandestine nuclear activities first discovered in 2002 were geared solely toward generating power.

Iran’s foot-dragging on those points contributed to a decision last month by the IAEA’s 35-nation board of governors to find the country in violation of provisions of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The board also passed a resolution clearing the way for it to refer Tehran to the Security Council as early as next month.

The diplomats, who are accredited to the agency, said that after signals from Tehran that it was ready to compromise, all three points were being discussed between Iranian officials and the IAEA delegation, led by Olli Heinonen, an agency deputy director general.

A cover for a weapons program?
Iran strongly denies assertions from the United States and its allies that its nuclear program is a cover for a weapons program or that its military is involved in atomic activities.

In Moscow on Tuesday, Russian analysts said that the United States’ push to refer Iran to the Security Council for possible sanctions would only deepen the crisis.

Alexei Arbatov, head of the Center for Security Problems at the Russian Academy of Sciences, said the U.S. could resolve the impasse by joining talks between Iran and the European Union, represented by Britain, Germany and France. The talks collapsed in August after Iran resumed uranium reprocessing work.

“Handing the Iranian nuclear issue over to the Security Council will only split it and encourage Iran to raise the stakes,” Arbatov said during a round-table meeting that attracted some of Russia’s top experts on Iran.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov last week dismissed speculation that Moscow might join talks between Iran and the EU mediators. Arbatov argued that Moscow’s mediation would make no sense, because no agreement could be reached without the U.S.

He said that Washington could persuade Tehran to drop its uranium enrichment program by restoring diplomatic relations and offering security guarantees to Iran.

Russia has said it shares the goal of preventing Iran from achieving a nuclear arms capability but differs on the tactics. It has been at the center of the dispute because it is building a $800 million nuclear reactor in the Iranian city of Bushehr that is scheduled for launch by the end of 2006.