TEHRAN (Reuters) - U.N. experts will inspect Iran’s newly disclosed uranium enrichment plant on October 25, the IAEA nuclear agency chief said on Sunday, praising a shift “from conspiracy to cooperation” between Tehran and the West.
The underground nuclear fuel facility near the holy Shi‘ite city of Qom had been kept secret until Iran disclosed its existence last month, setting off an international furor.
Iran agreed with six world powers -- the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany -- in Geneva on Thursday to allow IAEA inspectors unfettered access to the site.
“IAEA inspectors will visit Iran’s new enrichment facility, under construction in Qom, on 25th of October,” International Atomic Energy Agency head Mohammed ElBaradei told a joint news conference with Iran’s nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi.
“It is important for us to have comprehensive cooperation over the Qom site ... It is important for us to send our inspectors to assure ourselves that this facility is for peaceful purposes.”
The West suspects the Islamic state is covertly seeking to develop nuclear weapons. Iran denies it.
U.S. National Security adviser James Jones said Iran did not appear to be closer to having a nuclear weapon. The New York Times said on Saturday that an IAEA report had concluded Iran has sufficient information to produce a bomb.
Jones said it was significant that Iran had agreed to inspections of the new uranium enrichment site near Qom.
“We now have an Iran that is willing to come to the table,” he said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” program.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Iran’s cooperation with the IAEA had left no “vagueness” about its nuclear work.
“There are no ambiguous issues remaining because of Iran’s good cooperation with the agency,” Ahmadinejad said in a meeting with ElBaradei, state radio reported.
The IAEA says Iran needs to clarify some issues such as alleged studies by Iran on high explosives and a missile delivery system for a nuclear warhead.
ElBaradei said the IAEA and Iran disagreed over the timing of the disclosure of the pilot enrichment plant.
“Iran should have informed the IAEA the day they had decided to construct the facility,” he told the news conference, referring to an IAEA transparency statute that was tightened in 1992 to require immediate notification of planned nuclear sites.
Previously a state had to alert the IAEA of a new site just six months before introducing nuclear materials into it.
Salehi rejected this, saying: “Ever since the unfair entry of the U.N. Security Council into Iran’s nuclear dossier, we reverted to the old arrangement in protest at U.N. sanctions.”
Salehi will discuss details of the inspection with the IAEA in Vienna on October 19, ElBaradei said.
Iran has said the site, which has space for about 3,000 centrifuges, is about 18 months away from going on line.
Last Thursday’s talks in Geneva are expected to win Iran a reprieve from tougher U.N. sanctions, although Western powers are likely to be wary of any attempt by Tehran to buy time to develop its nuclear program.
Iran’s top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili said the outcome of the Geneva talks was “agreement over the manner of continuing talks with six powers,” the Abrar daily reported.
ElBaradei said that remaining differences could be resolved through diplomacy. “The relation between Iran and the world powers is shifting from conspiracy to transparency and cooperation,” he said.
U.S. President Barack Obama has described the talks as a constructive beginning but warned that Tehran must do more to prove that it would not use its nuclear program to produce atomic bombs.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said on Sunday that there was a small opening in the dialogue between Iran and the international community even if the country must answer questions over its suspected nuclear ambitions.
“We are ready to no longer speak about sanctions, but we need to discuss what we call the heart of the matter, that is to say is this uranium enrichment dangerous or not?,” Kouchner told RTL radio and LCI television.
Several U.S. lawmakers called on Sunday for new sanctions against Iran in the wake of the New York Times report.
“We’ve been lied to enough by Iran. I would hope that the President would go ahead and impose sanctions,” Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia told the “Fox News Sunday” program.
But ElBaradei said there was no “concrete proof” that Iran was seeking nuclear weapons capability, adding that the IAEA remained concerned over the possibility.
Western officials said Iran had agreed “in principle” in Thursday’s meeting to ship out most of its enriched uranium for reprocessing in Russia and France. It would then be returned to power a Tehran reactor that makes medical isotopes.
Additional reporting by Reza Derakhshi in Tehran and Tamora Vidaillet and Julien Ponthus in Paris; Writing by Andrew Hammond, Parisa Hafezi and Anthony Boadle; Editing by Dominic Evans, Bill Trott and Paul Simao