IAEA team back from Iran inspection

A team of UN nuclear inspectors returned on Oct. 29 from a visit to a previously secret uranium enrichment site in Iran, and their leader expressed satisfaction with the mission.

CA Online and wire services

2009-10-30

VIENNA, Austria — A team of UN nuclear inspectors returned on Oct. 29 from a visit to a previously secret uranium enrichment site in Iran, and their leader expressed satisfaction with the mission.

What the inspectors saw, and how freely they were allowed to work, will be critical in deciding whether the P5+1 (six world powers seeking to allay fears that Iran intends to make nuclear weapons) will request a new round of talks with Tehran.

The previously secret Fordo site is near the holy city of Qom. Iran revealed it was building it on Sept. 21 in a confidential letter to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Just days later, the leaders of the UK, France and the U.S. condemned Tehran for having kept the site secret.

The West believes Iran revealed the site's existence only because it had learned that the Western allies were about to make it public, a charge Iran denies.

Tehran says it wants to enrich uranium only to make nuclear fuel, but the West worries that Iran wants to create fissile warhead material.

"We had a good trip," said Herman Nackaerts, who headed the IAEA inspection team. The nuclear agency plans to analyse data from the visit, and IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei will report its result to the 35-nation IAEA board “in due time."

Beyond that, ElBaradei is expected to brief Russia, China, Britain, France, the U.S. and Germany, known as the P5+1, in an attempt to persuade Iran to freeze enrichment.

The IAEA visit to Fordo was the first independent look inside the enrichment plant, a former ammunition dump burrowed in the treeless hills south of Tehran. The inspectors were expected to have studied plant blueprints, interviewed workers and taken soil samples before wrapping up their mission.

Iran's other enrichment plant, a sprawling underground facility at Natanz, is already under IAEA monitoring. But Iran’s general refusal to heed UN Security Council demands and freeze enrichment has resulted in three sets of sanctions being imposed on the country by the Council.

[AP]

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