Nuclear watchdog heads for Tehran

The head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog agency, Muhammad al-Baradai, is heading to Tehran on Tuesday to press Iran to allow tougher inspections of its nuclear sites.

Al-Baradai is expected to pressIran to allow wider inspectionsAl-Baradai is expected to pressIran to allow wider inspections

Al-Baradai is due to hold talks with Iranian President Muhammad Khatami and head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation, Gholamreza Aghazadeh on Wednesday.


A spokesman for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said al-Baradai would urge Iranian officials to sign immediately an additional protocol to the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).


The protocol allows UN inspectors to make surprise visits to any site in Iran, including those not declared to the IAEA.


Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi told UN Secretary General Kofi Annan on Tuesday that the goal for al-Baradai’s visit should be to build mutual trust.


“Tehran is ready to listen to al-Baradai’s views,” he said in a telephone conversation with Annan as quoted by the official IRNA news agency.


“We hope that during the negotiations Iran’s concerns and standpoints are also taken into consideration”, Kharrazi added.


IAEA spokesman Mark Gwozdecky said Iran should sign the protocol because it would “generate additional confidence in the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme”.


The protocol was set up after UN inspectors found that Iraq was secretly developing a nuclear weapons programme in 1991.


“Al-Baradei (wants) to make progress in resolving all the outstanding issues that he raised in his report on Iran to the (IAEA) board of governors,” Gwozdecky said.


Last month, al-Baradei said Iran had failed to inform the IAEA of some of its nuclear activities, but that the Islamic republic was taking steps to rectify the situation.


Questions for Tehran

The IAEA called on Tehran to provide answers to questions on its nuclear programme.


These questions included the testing of centrifuges and the role of uranium metal in Iran’s energy programme.


Uranium metal has civilian applications, but it can also produce fissile material for nuclear weapons.


Washington accuses Iran of using its civilian nuclear programme as a covert to develop nuclear weapons.


But Iran denies the charges, saying its nuclear programme aims at  generating electricity to meet the needs of a fast-growing population.


Al-Baradai’s visit follows massive pressure exercised by the United States and later from the European Union and the Group-8 states on the Islamic republic to prove it was not developing nuclear weapons.


Gwozdecky said he hoped Iran would opt to sign the protocol instead of waiting to answer the IAEA’s questions.


However, he said that resolving the “outstanding issues” should begin even before signing the additional protocol.

Source: News Agencies